It's official, Uber saves lives

Tomorrow, the European Commission is set release its findings from a year long investigation into the Sharing Economy. Interestingly they're expected to go against many European cities who are increasingly trying to regulate ridesharing out of existence.

Last week, I argued that attempts to protect consumers by regulating supposedly unsafe products often backfired, because those products are often substitutes for even riskier products and behaviours. In particular, I pointed to Austin's fingerprint background check requirement that made Uber and Lyft prohibitively expensive to run in the city, and led to consumers taking even riskier journeys. But, if anything the harms of driving Uber and Lyft out of town are even greater than I made out.

At least that's according to a new Working Paper from Angela Dills and Sean Mulholland, which investigated the impact of Uber's entry to a city on vehicle accidents and crime. They looked at data across 150 cities and counties on a range of metrics, from vehicle accidents and DUI arrests, to drunk and disorderly conduct and aggravated assault. 

Dills and Mulholland point out that there's a range of ways that Uber might affect crime and accident rates. Maybe it'll increase accidents because Uber drivers are more likely to be distracted both by smart phones and passengers. Maybe it'll increase driver-on-passenger assaults as unsafe drivers sneak through lax background checks. Maybe it'll increase assault widely, as more folks get their drink on, safe in the knowledge they don't have to be the designated driver.

But the data doesn't bear out any of these fears. Dills and Mulholland came away with two major findings.

First, the rate of vehicular accidents falls quite dramatically when Uber enters a city, with traffic fatalities declining by 16.6 per cent over a year. This can be explained by both a reduction in the number of people driving under the influence, as well as the fact that the people most likely to use Uber (i.e. millennials) are terrible drivers and anything that keeps them off the road is a good thing.

Second, they find declines in arrests for both assaults and disorderly conduct. This may be because Uber reduces passenger wait times, lowering the risk of someone being attacked while waiting for a cab. This finding is especially important as governments have attempted to impose minimum wait times on ridesharing services with varying success (thankfully, TFL's proposals were roundly rejected).

As city governments increasingly move to crack down upon ride-sharing services like Uber on the grounds of public safety, legislators should take these findings very seriously. Bans on Uber aren't just bad economics, they can kill.