Study: Rideshares are convenient, but deadly, and can cost up to $10 billion in lost lives

The advent of rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft has been convenient – and deadly, according to new research.

Since ride-hail companies began rolling out in 2011, they’ve been connected with more congestion and an increase of approximately 3% in the number of car fatalities and other fatal accidents, according to a study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Researchers based this number on the years before and after ride-hailing apps, between 2001-16, and focused on the companies Uber and Lyft.

Before ride-hailing, car crashes at a low

Before the introduction of ridesharing in 2011, study authors wrote, “macro trends in motor vehicle accidents and pedestrian fatalities, both of which had been falling steeply in the United States over the period 1985 to 2010 … have since reversed course.”

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In 2010, the lowest number of people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the U.S. since 1949. That number began to increase shortly after ride-hail apps were introduced the next year, in 2011, and the increase wasn’t restricted to cars, either. The Governors Highway Safety Association recently remarked that the 2018 pedestrian fatality number was at its highest since 1990, and 35% higher than it was 10 years prior.

Biggest accident impact in big cities – and fatalities include pedestrians as well as motorists

Ridesharing’s biggest impact in accidents has been in major cities, where it put more cars on the road with a documented spike in new-car registrations (despite the availability of public transit systems) and caused pedestrian and bike deaths as well as motor-vehicle fatalities.

Some people in big cities who would normally be walking, biking, or taking public transit are now taking rideshares. “Surveys report that fewer than half of [ridehailing] rides in nine major metro areas actually substitute for a trip that someone would have made in a car,” read the study.

Driver error

Factors in driver error that contribute to accidents include the possibility of low-quality driver,  and the ride-hailing companies hiring and thereby putting more cars on the road (ride-hailing dovetails with acute increases of auto loans, auto sales, and employment and vehicle use among low-income individuals – i.e., the people who are probably aiming to become ride-hail drivers).

And of course, there is another, inherent danger of the sheer number of drivers on the road on any given night, as they prowl the streets for fares, alone – the companies see value in keeping large numbers of drivers on duty to be available for potential fares, so as long as you’re out there, they’re out there. The more cars on the road, the more risk of accidents.

The “nontrivial” cost of death

The researchers quantified the financial cost of the additional fatalities due to ride-hailing, using the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates for the value of a statistical life, at $10 billion – which researchers called “nontrivial.” That number does not include the cost of non-fatal accidents.