Analysts say that self-driving cars could make people drink more alcohol

Rob Price
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Olivier Bruchez/Flickr (CC)

Self-driving cars are going to transform city streets, making our roads safer and our lives more efficient.

But they will have other, less predictable consequences too — like helping people get way more drunk.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley recently assessed the potential impact of autonomous vehicles on the alcohol industry, and their conclusions are good news for anyone who likes a drink.

Alcohol consumption is likely to increase, they predicted, with significant accompanying benefits for drinks businesses.

Right now alcohol and driving do not go together. People drink less (or not at all) if they have to drive, and time spent driving is — obviously — time that can't exactly be spent drinking.

"These markets should, for obvious safety reasons, be entirely mutually exclusive," Morgan Stanley said.

But if your car can drive itself, this may soon change. People won't have to worry about the "designated driver," and can even drink while in the vehicle itself.

morgan stanley drink driving self driving cars

Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley points out we're already beginning to see this happen, in the form of ride-hailing services like Uber, which has been linked to lowering rates of drink-driving in cities where it operates.

Historically, the financial services firm's analysts wrote, the attitude towards booze and cars has been "I can't drink because I have to drive," but this is now shifting to "I can drink and someone else will drive me home."

From there, it's a relatively one more leap to what driverless cars promise: "I can drink while I'm driving because I'm not actually driving."

Morgan Stanley estimates that the tech could create an extra $56 billion in value for the alcohol industry, and a 0.8% increase in its overall 10-year compound annual growth rate.

morgan stanley drink driving

Morgan Stanley

This is all, of course, contingent on regulators allowing driverless vehicles onto their streets. Right now, trials are being conducted around the globe by companies ranging from Uber to Tesla — but a driver typically has to remain behind the wheel, ready to take control if the need arises.

It's a big leap from there to full autonomy so safe the "driver" can get boozy, and it won't happen overnight, for cultural as much as technical reasons. But that's the end game for many companies developing autonomous vehicle technology.

Of course, the tech isn't just a cause for celebration for alcohol companies and their clientele. It will also save lives — and likely tens of billions of dollars.

Every day, 28 people in the US die as a result of crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver, and alcohol-related crashes cost more than $44 billion every year. If self-driving cars help to lower those stats, then that's arguably something worth drinking to.

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