Study: Uber and Lyft are Increasing Traffic Deaths

Photo:  Flickr/Raido Kaldma
Photo: Flickr/Raido Kaldma

Uber and Lyft are not just increasing congestion and hurting transit, they are literally killing us.

A new study [PDF] from the Booth School at the University of Chicago estimates Uber and Lyft have increased traffic deaths by 2-3 percent nationally. That’s as many as 1,100 additional deaths a year — a small, but significant contribution to the increase in traffic deaths in the U.S. since 2011, the authors say.

Uber and Lyft have tried to market themselves as green companies that can help solve urban transportation problems, but the evidence keeps piling up that they are making many problems worse.

This new study backs up previous findings that Uber and Lyft have cannibalized transit trips and increased driving. The study found that cities with high adoption of Uber and Lyft had 3 percent more total miles driven daily on average than cities with low adoption. The effect was even bigger in larger cities and cities that had high rates of transit ridership. And more miles mean more deaths.

“”We need to think of the wholistic costs and benefits,” lead author John Barrios told Streetsblog. “We can’t just focus on the benefits and ignore the costs.”

The costs are significant: Cities with high Uber and Lyft usage had more pedestrian deaths, more traffic deaths at night, more traffic deaths on weekends and more traffic deaths overall than the trend would have predicted, compared to other cities. Even drunk driving deaths were essentially unchanged by the presence of Uber and Lyft, Barrios and his team found.

On total car ownership, more bad news. Cities with high Uber and Lyft activity actually had 3 percent higher new vehicle registrations (see this for New York City’s experience). Uber and Lyft might discourage car ownership among some higher-income riders, but app-based taxis seem to induce more car buying among lower-income people that work as drivers, Barrios found.

As Streetsblog reported, Uber and Lyft increase congestion partly because drivers spend 40 to 60 percent  of their time circling without passengers, also known as “deadheading.” Barrios and his team said, Uber and Lyft’s policies make the problem worse.

“Rideshare companies often subsidize drivers to stay on the road even when utilization is low, to ensure that supply is quickly available,” they wrote.

In addition, drivers for Uber and Lyft receive little training and are relatively inexperienced compared to the taxi drivers they replaced. And the companies perform little quality control compared to other commercial drivers.

Edna Umeh, a school crossing guard, was killed in November in suburban Atlanta when she was struck at 51 miles per hour — about twice the speed limit — by a Uber driver. The driver, Lamonte Whitaker, said he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Uber has been slow to impose limits on drowsy driving that apply to other commercial drivers. Just this year, it imposed a rule that drivers must take a six-hour break after driving for 12 hours straight, a much weaker standard than the federal government requires for most commercial drivers.

A spokesperson for Lyft called the study “deeply flawed” in a statement. “Numerous studies have shown that rideshare has reduced DUIs, provided safe transportation in areas underserved by other options, and dramatically improved mobility in cities.”

But Barrios said the other studies that showed Uber and Lyft reduce DUIs did not properly control for the fact that DUIs had already begun to decline before ride-hailing apps were introduced.

  • jcwconsult

    1) No, they look essentially the same in old photos.
    2) New living units WILL have people who drive cars, denying that or hoping it won’t happen is utter nonsense.
    3) False conclusion on your part.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    I know a lot of people who live in metroplexes where transit is viable for most journeys. They also own cars.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    As you should know, Mr. Scientific, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” You have no idea what even a tiny share of people in the U.S. actually *want* when it comes to transportation. (Neither do I, but I’m not the one making wild claims about what people want.)

  • fdtutf

    1) ALL the streets?
    2) If there’s nowhere to park, demand for transit rises. The built environment matters. “People want to drive” is not a law of nature.
    3) If the land-use patterns only support transit on “many of the major collectors & arterials,” then my conclusion is correct. Those aren’t the only streets where land-use patterns matter.

  • jcwconsult

    1) If you visited Ann Arbor, you would understand. It was founded in the 1820s and there are many photos of old days.
    2) A large portion of our 70,000 daily commuters, visitors, shoppers, etc. cannot afford to live in town. Transit does not exist from where many of them live for lower cost housing.
    3) Again, false conclusion – the bus routes are quite logical and provide transit availability for most residents who live inside the city limits.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    1) That’s a non-answer.
    2) That’s a non-answer.
    3) That’s a non-answer.

    More to the point:
    1) I greatly doubt that Ann Arbor had streets in the 1820s that were wide enough for several lanes of automobile traffic.
    2) Why isn’t there transit available where these people live?
    3) That’s not even vaguely salient to my point. If the city’s land-use patterns supported transit, the city would perforce have a higher transit mode share than it currently does.

  • jcwconsult

    All incorrect. Wild unfounded accusations are of no value.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    And that’s just hand-waving, which is of less than no value (it’s actually destructive of useful dialogue).

    Most particularly, why did you not answer my question (2)? You can’t reasonably characterize that as a “wild unfounded accusation of no value.”

  • jcwconsult

    The areas where the lower income service workers often live for affordability are too dispersed to make transit practical. And the town is pretty drivable, so the convenience, privacy, & comfort factors make driving more desirable than transit – even from the few places where it is available.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    In other words, as I said previously, the city is set up to cater to motorists and not to transit users. Glad we finally got there.

  • jcwconsult

    Totally incorrect, but feel free to have your false conclusions.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    My God, you admitted it in your previous comment and now you’re calling it “totally incorrect.” That must be some kind of record, even for you.

  • jcwconsult

    When you reach false conclusions, it does not advance the debate. We have a good transit system that serves residents who choose to use it. We also have a modest size town where driving is convenient. It is NOT a zero sum game.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    You really are a master of the “my categorical assertions are facts because I say they are” style of debate.

    Too bad everybody else sees through you.

  • Alicia

    “I know a lot of people who live in metroplexes where transit is viable for most journeys. They also own cars.”

    I also know people who live in large cities who own cars. Many of those people save their cars for vacations and walk or use public transportation for their daily business.

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