Uber and Lyft Ride-Sharing Linked to Increase in Auto Accident Deaths: Study

A new study suggests that after ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft enter a city, an increase is typically seen in the number of auto accident deaths, suggesting that the services may add roughly $10 billion in economic losses annually in the U.S. 

Researchers from the University of Chicago and Rice University published a report this month, “The Cost of Convenience: Ridesharing and Traffic Fatalities”, which evaluates the effect of Uber and Lyft ride-sharing services entering a city on the accident rates.

Researchers looked at statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and CrashStats in major cities, evaluating data following the launch of Uber and Lyft services, primarily focusing on vehicle miles traveled and the rate of fatal accidents.

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Prior to the emergency of Uber and Lyft, fatal crashes had dropped to their lowest annual proportion by 2010, with just over 32,000 deaths each year. This was the lowest number of accident deaths recorded since 1949, according to the NHSTA.

Since 2010, the NHTSA has seen annual increases in the number of vehicle miles traveled, growing from 2.9 billion is 2010 to nearly 3.2 billion in 2016. Researchers pointed out that since 2009, there has only been one year traffic fatalities did not consecutively increase up to 2016.

Lead author John M. Barrios stated the major take-off of Uber and Lyft ride sharing services toward the end of 2010 has since attributed to a two to three percent increase in the number of motor vehicle fatalities and fatal accidents annually. Evidence shows the ride sharing services have caused increases in new car registrations among cities, increased vehicle miles traveled in cities, increased gas consumption and attributed to traffic congestion.

One of the most significant contributing factors to the annual accident fatalities is called the “quantity effect” which is the strain of congestion put on cities highways due to the increase of service drivers. According to the quantity effect, the more vehicles put on the street, the more highway miles will be traveled and more motor vehicle crashes and fatalities will occur5.

Although more ride-share vehicles on the street does result in fewer intoxicated drivers, Barrios claims it congests cities and highways because it puts individuals who would have walked, biked or taken public transportation in an Uber or Lyft vehicle on the street.

Much of the ride sharing services vehicle miles traveled can be attributed to Uber and Lyft drivers traveling with empty vehicles in search of potential riders. These vehicle miles traveled often require drivers to use their handheld devices to make themselves available and confirm pickups, adding to the distraction of vehicle miles traveled.

Major cities and more populated towns should approach infrastructure and roadway designs considering the impact ride sharing services have, said co-author Yael V. Hochbergn, of Rice University.

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