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Uber and Lyft increase fatal car accidents, new research shows



Lyft rider gets into car
Lyft customer gets into a car in San Francisco,

Justin Sullivan/Getty

  • A new study from University of Chicago and Rice University
    researchers shows an uptick in fatal car crashes after Uber and Lyft launched in a city. 
  • Prior to the launch of ride-hailing services, fatal traffic
    deaths hit their lowest number in half a century in 2010, when
    Uber first began offering rides in San Francisco. 
  • The authors of the forthcoming research hope to influence the
    rhetoric surrounding the ride-hailing debate that’s consuming
    some of the US’ largest cities, including New York. 

In the years before Uber and Lyft started popping up in cities
across the United States, deadly car accidents were at record

By 2010, just before the ride-hailing services began to expand en
masse, the total number of traffic fatalities sank to 32,885
nationwide, the lowest number since 1949, according to
government data
. But once Uber and Lyft began aggressively
expanding, the authors of a yet-to-be-published study have found,
those fatal accidents began to slowly rise once again.

“The arrival of ridesharing is associated with an increase of
2-3% in the number of motor vehicle fatalities and fatal
accidents,” researchers John Barrios of the University of Chicago
along with Yael Hochberg and Livia Hanyi Yi of Rice University,
write in a draft of their paper, which is in the preliminary
stages of publication. 

To examine the effect of ride-hailing on traffic safety, the
researchers first took official statistics from the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration and overlaid them with the
dates Uber or Lyft began operating in a specific city. The
authors then looked at accident rates in those cities per vehicle
miles traveled (VMT).

Not surprisingly, VMT increased dramatically once Uber launched
in San Francisco in 2010, quickly followed by other competitors,
thanks in part to the miles drivers travel between the end of one
fare and picking up another passenger. In New York, a study found
this year, drivers travel an average of 2.8 miles between fares.

“Using the staggered introduction of ridesharing across U.S.
cities, we show that its introduction in a metropolitan area
leads to an economically meaningful increase in overall motor
vehicle fatalities,” the paper says. “This increase is consistent
with acknowledged macro trends in motor vehicle accidents.”

To be sure, the study is concerned with total vehicle traffic in
a given city and time, so its possible that the accidents are not
related to any ride-hailing driver. The researchers add that
it “may be too soon to tell whether the effect we document
is a short-term adjustment or a longer-term pattern.”

Still, they hope the findings will add to a growing list of
research around ridesharing and the entire gig economy.
It could also serve as more fuel for those pushing for
further caps on ridesharing, like New York’s city council passed in August.
Despite loud opposition from the companies, new ride-hailing
driver permits will be halted after the legislative body’s 36-6
approval of the bill, which also requires Uber and Lyft to ensure
drivers receive minimum wage.

“Our findings may be a reason to reframe the discussion around
cities’ response to the rapid growth of ridesharing,” the paper
says. “While much of the resistance to ridesharing has been
presented as a case of entrenched incumbents (taxis) seeking
rents, our findings suggest considerable societal costs are also
at play.”

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