It’s been nearly a decade since the rise of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. Seemingly ubiquitous, Uber and Lyft vehicles can be located and used with the touch of a button nearly anywhere in the nation, offering an on-demand, affordable, and convenient form of transportation, and transforming the way many people get around. But what other impacts have ridesharing services had?
According to a new study from University of Chicago and Rice University, the rise of ridesharing services is correlated with a rise in fatal auto accidents nationwide, which calls into question the safety of these services and calls for a closer examination of the impact they’re having. Since the expansion of ridesharing services, the soon-to-be-published paper reports a nationwide two to three percent increase in the number of fatal accidents involving motor vehicles. By using official statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the researchers looked at city-specific data regarding the number of accidents per vehicle miles traveled (VMT), alongside the known dates of Uber and Lyft’s establishment in those particular cities.
By using this method of data analysis, the researchers found that the 2010 launch of Uber in San Francisco resulted in a significant increase in MVT, and an “economically meaningful increase in overall motor vehicle fatalities,” stating that “This increase is consistent with acknowledged macrotrends in motor vehicle accidents.” For many, these findings are particularly disappointing considering the fact that ridesharing services were launched during a time when the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents was lower than it had been in 60 years.
While to many this study’s findings are convincing evidence of a causal relationship between the rise of ridesharing services and fatal motor vehicle accidents, it’s important to note that the former may have absolutely nothing to do with the latter, as the data examined involves all of the vehicle traffic in a particular region at a particular time. In other words, the possibility of the association being coincidental cannot be ruled out. In support of this possibility, economist and president of Impresa, Joe Cortright, suggests that lower gas prices could explain the increase in MVT, which could explain the increase in motor vehicle accidents. According to Cortright, additional analysis is needed before any conclusions are made. Nonetheless, the study has garnered widespread attention, with many using the findings as leverage in the push to limit these ridesharing services in a number of ways.
Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft representatives have spoken out in strong opposition to the study’s findings, pointing out the study’s flaws and reiterating that their primary focus has been and continues to be on the safety of their drivers and the clients they serve.