Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have revolutionized the transportation industry. One of the most frequently touted benefits of the ridesharing revolution is that it saves lives by providing a safe, affordable and easy way to take drunk drivers off the road.
However, a 2018 study suggests that ridesharing services may actually cause at least as many accidents as they prevent, some of them fatal. Even after controlling for other factors, the researchers found that every year ridesharing services are available in a particular city, the number of fatal car accidents, some of them involving bicyclists and pedestrians, increases by 2% to 4%.
Quality versus quantity
Ridesharing companies and their proponents claim that there is a quality effect that occurs by taking drunk drivers off the road. In other words, the overall quality of drivers behind the wheel at any given time is better because of ridesharing services.
However, the researchers theorize that a “quantity effect” cancels out any possible “quality effect” of removing impaired drivers from the roads. In other words, ridesharing services cause the risk of accidents to go up simply by increasing the volume of vehicles on the road. Further compounding the problem is the possibility that the convenience and popularity of ridesharing may deter people from using alternative modes of transportation, such as bicycling, walking or public transport.
In addition to increasing the number of vehicles on the road, ridesharing may also cause more accidents because of the behavior of the drivers. Accidents can occur when an Uber or Lyft driver stops abruptly to pick up a passenger or speeds to the next fare. Another potential hazard is distraction due to the driver checking GPS or using the smartphone app to choose the next fare. For example, two years ago a 54-year-old woman in Detroit was a passenger in a rideshare vehicle when the driver crashed while checking pickup notifications. She suffered traumatic brain injuries that left her unable to work.
Rather than condemning the use of ridesharing services, at least one of the researchers expressed hope that the data could be used to improve regulation of the services in the municipalities where they are available.