While we laud ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft for making it easier to get home from the pub, we sometimes forget about the drivers. With drivers of varying levels of experience often trying to use apps for multiple services in the car, New York City crashes have increased with the rise of the apps.
Crashes in NYC involving for-hire vehicles (including app-hailed and non-app-hailed rides) rose from 534 in July 2014 to 1,672 in June 2016, per records obtained by the New York Post. That includes five fatal “black car” crashes between May and June of this year.
“Black cars”—for-hire vehicles without a loud taxi livery—have seen a rise in incidents just from last year as well. They’ve seen 9,062 crashes since January—4,273 more than the same time period in 2015, per the New York Post’s report. Even mere fender-benders have shot up: from 2,835 in July 2014 to 3,814 in June 2016.
It’s worth noting that these crash statistics include even minor fender benders, such as clipping a mirror. That’s still a ruined day for somebody who gets left with parts to fix.
Meanwhile, none of NYC’s yellow taxis have been involved in a fatal crash so far this year. Their crash statistics have gone down over the past three years: 1,168 in July 2014, 1,118 in July 2015, and 1,054 in June 2016. Some of that may be due to riders now using other services instead, but it shows that it’s all of the other kinds of for-hire services making up the difference in the crash statistics—and then some.
What could the problem be? Many ideas were given by riders and taxi industry representatives in New York Post’s report, such as the relative lack of regulation around ride-hailing apps, possible congestion caused by too many for-hire cars being given licenses, and even non-taxi for-hire vehicles’ relative invisibility, which makes it harder for those outside the vehicle to notice the car or report a problem.
Most of all, though, the Post concludes that for-hire drivers are all too often distracted by trying to use flashy apps and sometimes even multiple devices in the car to monitor several services at once.
While cab company representatives are eager to point out misuses of mobile devices by drivers, Green Taxis of New York Vice President Nancy Soria makes the case that many of these drivers—some of whom may have simply picked up rides by phone or on the street before—are simply spreading their attention too thin among too many screens:
The devices can be quite distracting. On Twitter, a passenger said her driver was watching a movie. Some of them do things like that. Some of them work for Uber and Lyft and other companies. They are constantly in between.
Combine these distractions with inexperienced drivers joining the fray to make a quick buck and you have a dangerous recipe for disaster.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission told the Post that the increase in the number of crashes has risen in line with the number of for-hire cars on the road. Given that app users have no set hours and not all of them are on the road regularly, it’s hard to accept that excuse when there’s such a severe uptick in wrecks.
However, as ride-hailing apps and other services mature, we’ll see more and more data that can hopefully lead to a clearer conclusion as to why for-hire vehicles are involved in more and more crashes.