Ronald Reagan & Uber

By Tom Leddo
Vice President

Ronald Reagan

In October of 1984 I had just begun my senior year of high school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Ronald Reagan was running for reelection against Walter Mondale. President Reagan came to the University of Alabama on a campaign stop and I had the opportunity to hear his remarks.

I was one month under the voting age of 18, but more importantly to me, I was thirteen months under the old legal drinking age of 19 in the state of Alabama and now, thanks to President Reagan, I was 37 months under the new drinking age of 21.

Reagan had recently signed a law that withheld federal funding for highway construction from states unless they had a drinking age of 21 so Alabama and several states raised the age to 21 to get the money. This law immediately added two loooong years to my desire to legally consume cheap beer in a can.

While at the time, I certainly was not very knowledgeable of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I do know that Reagan had often spoke against the intrusion of the Federal government in matters belonging to the state and local governments. So I, of course, considered him a hypocrite for forcing the states to change their own laws.

President Reagan changed my mind with a response that he gave to a college student who asked him about this issue in a question-and-answer session following his speech. Reagan replied “…when we saw the difference in areas where the drinking age had been increased and the difference in the accident rate, that I just thought that your lives were worth it.”

On that day; with that simple, unrehearsed, well delivered statement the “Great Communicator” convinced me that waiting two more years was a good idea and I never complained about it again.

[See the entire exchange between President Reagan and the student in the inset included herein.]


You may have seen one of the many recent articles in the news that addressed the reduction in the number of drunk driving related deaths in cities after the introduction of Uber – the Ride Sharing service that works through an app on your smartphone. Articles appeared in a variety of publications across the political spectrum such as Newsweek, the LA Times, The Daily Beast and Fox News. Each of these articles is based on a study by Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal of Temple University where the authors note “we find a significant drop in the rate of (alcohol related vehicular) homicides after the introduction of Uber.”

The coupling of Uber’s disruptive technology with the company’s labor practices has made the ride-sharing app quite controversial. Uber has severely dented the market share of traditional taxi services despite the fact that Uber drivers are considered self-employed contractors rather than employees, thereby receiving no benefits such as health insurance.

A class-action lawsuit over Uber labor practices is playing out in California and protests have risen across the globe including one in France that forced Uber to suspend its service in order to protect its drivers from violent attacks.

Love or hate Uber, there is no denying that the company has rocketed from a start-up in March of 2009 to company which the Wall Street Journal notes as having a valuation of over $50 billon (yes that is a “b”).

I acknowledge that I am a fan of the Uber business model. I have used the service several times in many cities and compared to traditional taxi services I have had friendlier drivers, cleaner cars, faster pick-ups and no body odor issues.   But even if I weren’t a fan, the aforementioned news articles would sway me to support Uber for a single reason.

Just as I heard Ronald Reagan say over thirty years ago, “… lives are worth it.”

The following is an excerpt from the transcript of a question-and-answer session between President Reagan and students at the University of Alabama regarding the legal drinking age. – October 15, 1984

Q: Good morning, Mr. President. Welcome to the campus. I’m Ed Howard from Birmingham, and I’m representing the Crimson White—that’s the campus newspaper. And so, our question for you is concerning the legislation that you signed into law that requires States to raise their legal drinking ages to 21. Why is this action not a contradiction of prior stances you’ve had against Federal intrusion in the State matters? And if it’s a justifiable contradiction, does that now mean that the ends justify the means?

The President: I have to tell you that you’re absolutely right, that my concern was over—having been a Governor for 8 years—this intrusion that I’ve been trying to eliminate since I’ve been President of the Federal Government. But in this particular instance, there was a tangled question with regard to State borders—and interstate type of thing where some States with one drinking law, and the others not-and then you had the traveling across the State line to where it was available, and then driving back, sometimes intoxicated and the great loss of life that the accidents that we’re having because of that.

And I had to say finally that in this instance and with the kind of gray area that was there, I had to say that the—when we saw the difference in areas where the drinking age had been increased and the difference in the accident rate, that I just thought that your lives were worth it.

November 19, 2015
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