Are Traffic Fatalities Rising in California from the Use of Rideshare Services?

Traffic Fatalities Rising in California from the Use of Rideshare Services

A rideshare accident lawyer is someone we hope you will never need, but we understand why we’re needed.  When Transportation Network Service drivers like those for Uber and Lyft that offer ridesharing services are involved in a collision there are usually three or more entities involved in the claim which amounts to a lot of phone calls and hair-pulling levels of frustration.  If there is an injury as a result of a vehicle collision with a rideshare driver as a passenger, driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist, then the stakes are even higher due to medical costs and lost wages during recovery.  A catastrophic injury or loss of life from a rideshare accident is the worst-case scenario for someone to have to face and no one should face this alone.  And with the increase in rideshare use, injuries and fatalities are an unfortunate reality. 

There’s no doubt rideshare services are rapidly increasing in popularity.  The California Mid-State Fair is held near our office in Paso Robles (we can even hear the concerts from our office!) and in recent years the site relocated the free shuttle services to make room for rideshare pick-ups and drop-offs directly in front of the venue.  Local residents who charge patrons to park in their yard even dropped prices this year, too.  The convenience of ridesharing is undeniable.  But at what cost?

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority commissioned their own study looking at VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and found that Uber and Lyft are the ‘biggest contributors’ to San Francisco’s traffic congestion. Uber and Lyft came forward with their own study this month from a transportation consultancy review of six cities, including San Francisco, and again found that there is a statistically significant increase in traffic congestion brought on from these rideshare services – as much as 13.4% in San Francisco County, with a noticeable increase closer to the city’s core.  The data has been increasing as rideshare and transportation network service use increases.

Traffic congestion is certainly a nuisance, but what does this mean for traffic fatalities in San Francisco and California as a whole?  California has been one of the states with the highest traffic fatality rates for many years.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes statistics on traffic accidents with fatalities including pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities from vehicle collisions (see our chart below).

California's Traffic Deaths: 1985; 2008-2018
California’s Traffic Deaths: 1985; 2008-2018

If we were to compare California’s traffic fatality rate in 1985 (4,960) to California in 2017 (3,602), you can see that the rate of traffic accident fatalities is down overall, but looking at more recent years (since 2014), the traffic collision death rate is going back up.  Now, keep in mind that California is currently the state with the second most pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities involving traffic collisions (Florida is first), which means many of these victims are pedestrians or people riding a bicycle, something San Francisco is working very hard to end with the Vision Zero initiative.  

If you’re wondering how rideshare accidents have anything to do with traffic fatalities in San Francisco, you may want to read this recent study from the University of Chicago and Rice University, “The Cost of Convenience: Ridehailing and Traffic Fatalities,” which found a correlation to the increase in fatal car crashes and the launching of Uber and Lyft in the cities they examined.  They found an increase of about 3% in the number of traffic fatalities for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians/bicyclists which has been the complete opposite of what many people expected.  The idea behind transportation network services was to assist in convenience and provide an alternative for people who are or will likely be impaired and unable to drive themselves; which is a great idea on the surface as there were nearly 11,000 people killed by impaired drivers in 2017 and more than 1,000 of these people were pedestrians.

But this study and others like it have been hindered by the transportation network service providers in finding the total number of accidents and fatalities directly caused by or involving a rideshare driver.  Uber, as an example, requires injured parties who seek lawful compensation for their injuries to sign a confidentiality clause as a condition of settlement.  These confidentiality clauses are often referred to as ‘gag orders’ because they suppress the information and effectively keep the statistics of injuries and/or fatalities caused by drivers within their network from public scrutiny and reports.  This makes it nearly impossible to provide hard data demonstrating that traffic fatalities are rising in California from the use of rideshare services.  The associated increase of 3% in traffic-related fatalities due to ridesharing accidents may be an understatement.

free san francisco personal injury lawyer consultation

UBER Doesn’t Care About Your Safety

UBER Doesn’t Care About Your Safety

Since its inception, UBER has walked a fine line between maintaining they are just a tech company, not a livery service like taxis, and promoting how “safe” it is to use UBER.  Their website now sports a dedicated tab called “Safety” where they proudly tout their commitment to safety, all the while cleverly sidestepping the issues of how they ensure their drivers engage in safe driving practices and what, if anything, UBER does to even evaluate whether the influx of UBER drivers adversely affects the safety of vulnerable users of roads like pedestrians, cyclists, the disabled or the elderly.  UBER’s answer to safety appears to be a new addition to the UBER app called “Ride Check” which is supposed to be used by riders and drivers in the event of a crash.  Sadly, UBER guards the information collected by this feature more fiercely than a momma bear guards her cubs, to make it almost impossible for accurate statistics to be generated on how many rides end up in crashes. 

In California, UBER’s purported safety conscious image has been inadvertently protected by state agencies tasked with collecting crash data.  Vehicle injury and fatality accident statistics are, in large part, gathered from the California Highway Patrol database, which obtains information from local police reports.  CHP then organizes this data so that items like how many injuries or fatalities occur within a city during a specific period of time, and the cause of the collision (a vehicle code violation) can be tallied.  Since there is no formal method for an investigating police officer to indicate that a transportation network provider like UBER or Lyft was involved in a collision, statewide collision statistics cannot be compiled.  Further compounding this problem is that as a private corporation, no one has required UBER make such information available to the appropriate government agency or the public. 

But the secrecy doesn’t end with the crash.  Once someone injured by an UBER driver seeks lawful compensation for their injuries from UBER, UBER then forces the injured party to enter into a settlement contract that contains confidentiality clauses, essentially gag orders, as a condition of compensating the injured person for the negligent acts of their drivers. By design, the use of such confidentiality clauses and gag orders protects the illusion that UBER remains a safe way to get around.  Making all injury and death settlements secret also has the added benefit (to UBER) of keeping the volume of injuries and deaths caused by UBER drivers shielded from public view.   

Despite all of UBER’s efforts to hide behind a wall of secrecy, researchers from the University of Chicago and Rice University recently published a study that correlates an increase in fatal car crashes with the launching of UBER or LYFT in cities across the United States.  Using historic crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for traffic fatalities researches found that by 2010, the year the ridesharing services began to expand, the number of traffic fatalities had decreased to its lowest level since 1949, only to begin rising after 2010.  The researchers indicate in their paper that “[t]he arrival of ridesharing is associated with an increase of 2-3% in the number of motor vehicle fatalities and fatal accidents.”

If UBER cared, even a little, about how its business model affects the safety and health of the public at large, it could take affirmative steps to make the crash data collected available for use by those who could fairly evaluate whether UBER has helped us…or hurt us.  Every aspect of the UBER business models rejects transparency.  The goal is for UBER to tell us they are committed to safety and for us to suspend disbelief, open the door of a stranger’s car and hope to god our ride isn’t the first time the driver has ever navigated the streets of San Francisco, New York, Chicago or anyone other bustling city.  But if you’re a pedestrian or a cyclist, no UBER app is going to protect you.