Study blames Uber, Lyft for spike in US traffic deaths

by Justin King October 25, 2018, 4:38 pm

The research claims ride-hailing services are behind the mysterious increase in traffic deaths since 2011.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft may be to blame for the recent increase in US traffic deaths, according to a University of Chicago and Rice University study (PDF).

Researchers analyzed localized statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and compared the traffic fatalities with the dates that Uber or Lyft first launched in various cities.

The study's authors point out that traffic deaths had fallen steeply in the US from 1985 through 2010, when ride-hailing first launched, and have since reversed course and increased. Consistent with the staggered rollout of such services, the arrival of Uber and Lyft is associated with a 2-3 percent increase in traffic mortalities since 2011.

"A naïve view of the effects of ridesharing merely views ridesharing as removing drivers who would have driven themselves with their car and replacing them with rideshare drivers," the study says. "This naïve view, however, ignores many of the nuanced effects of substituting driving oneself with being driven by a rideshare driver."

The authors say that drivers have riders in their car for only a small fraction of the time they are driving on the road. They drive empty from fare to fare and frequently relocate to different areas of a city that might provide better prospects.

The study admits that pooling services such as LyftLine and UberPool may increase ridership and reverse the trend. For now, however, the short-term fatality trend appears to be increasing.

The study may soon be irrelevant as companies such as Waymo prepare to roll out driverless taxi services. Further research will presumably focus on the accident and death rates as increasing numbers of driverless vehicles begin operating alongside human-piloted vehicles.