On the surface It would seem that fewer motorists are getting behind the wheel while under the influence these days thanks to ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. You would assume that this is would be making the roads safer for the rest of us. But surprising evidence collected by researchers at the University of Chicago found that these services may actually be contributing to more traffic deaths, not less. So, can this really be true? Are ride-hailing services Uber & Lyft leading to more traffic accidents?
What Does the Research Say
According to researchers from the university’s Booth Business School, motor vehicle fatalities and fatal accidents have increased by approximately three percent since the emergence of ride-hailing apps.
The research team reviewed traffic statistics in various U.S. cities before and after Uber and Lyft were launched. They analyzed accidents, traffic volume & transportation choices. While 32,885 people died on U.S. roads in 2010, (the lowest number since 1949) that amount increased to more than 37,400 by 2016. According to research, the introduction of ride-hailing services in major cities in 2011 increased the roadway death toll by about three percent annually nationwide, which translates to 987 people per year.
What is even more interesting, is that this increased rate of accidents even appears to be worsening as time goes on and the ride-share apps become more and more popular, according to lead researcher John Barrios, an assistant professor at Chicago Booth.
How Significant are the Results
So, how exactly are ride-hailing apps leading to such a significant increase in accidents? While there is not one absolute answer, an easy hypothesis is that with Uber and Lyft, there are simply just more cars on the road in general, which in turn leads to more accidents, injuries, and deaths. Finding a ride in major cities may only take a few minutes. This is because there are so many cars with drivers available.
It’s also worth noting that services like Uber and Lyft keep as many cars on the road as possible at any given time. That way, a car is always available for a customer in need. This results in many ride-hailing drivers staying behind the wheel even when they don’t have a fare, and ultimately means more cars on the road throughout an entire day. It really is a recipe for disaster.
More than anywhere else around the country, the increased accident rates are occurring in larger cities, which have also seen a rise in new registrations since ride-hailing apps became available. This is an indicator that more and more city dwellers are turning to ride-hailing apps as a way to generate income. Bicycle and pedestrian fatalities from car accidents have also increased in major cities that have introduced ridehailing apps. It really is a numbers game. With increased car activity, you will have increased accident activity.
Additionally, the research shows that many people are using the apps for trips that they probably would have just made by foot or bike just a few years earlier. Surveys report that fewer than half of ride-hailing rides in nine major metro areas actually substitute for a trip that someone would have made in a car the study reads.
Working off of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s estimates for the financial cost of a road fatality, researchers estimated deaths due to ride-hailing apps have amounted to almost $10 billion. The study’s authors concede that apps like Uber undeniably provide many benefits to customers and drivers alike, but also states that the annual cost in human lives is not a trivial number.
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