Transportation

Uber’s fatal accident tally shows low rates but excludes key numbers

Comment

Image Credits: ANTHONY WALLACE

Uber’s just-released U.S. Safety Report sets forth in some detail its number of fatal accidents, and the good news is that the overall rate per mile is about half the national average. But the report makes some puzzling choices as far as what is included and excluded.

To create the report, Uber took its internal reports of crashes, generated by drivers, users or insurance companies, and compared it to the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS, a database that tracks all automotive deaths. In this way Uber was able to confirm 97 fatal crashes with 107 total deaths in 2017 and 2018 combined.

As the company is careful to point out, more than 36,000 people died in car crashes in the U.S. in 2018 alone, so the total doesn’t really mean much on its own. So they (as others do in this field) put those accidents in context of miles traveled. After all, one crash in 100,000 miles doesn’t sound bad because it’s only one, but 10 crashes in a billion miles, which is closer to what Uber saw, is actually much better despite the first number being higher. To some this is blindingly obvious, but perhaps not to others.

The actual numbers are that in 2017, there were 49 “Uber-related” fatalities over 8.2 billion miles, or approximately 0.59 per 100 million miles traveled; in 2018, there were 58 over 1.3 billion, or about 0.57 per 100 million miles. The national average is more than 1.1 per 100 million, so Uber sees about half as many fatalities per mile overall.

These crashes generally occurred at lower speeds than the national average, and were more likely by far to occur at night, in lighted areas of cities. That makes sense, since rideshare services are heavily weighted toward urban environments and shorter, lower-speed trips.

That’s great, but there are a couple of flies in the ointment.

First, obviously, there is no mention whatsoever of non-fatal accidents. These are more difficult to track and categorize, but it seems odd not to include them at all. If the rates of Ubers getting into fender-benders or serious crashes where someone breaks an arm are lower than the national average, as one might expect from the fatality rates, why not say so?

When I asked about this, an Uber spokesperson said that non-fatal crashes are simply not as well defined or tracked, certainly not to the extent fatal crashes are, which makes reporting them consistently difficult. That makes sense, but it still feels like we’re missing an important piece here. Fatal accidents are comparatively rare and the data corpus on non-fatal accidents may provide other insights.

Uber reveals thousands of sexual assault reports last year

Second, Uber has its own definition of what constitutes an “Uber-related” crash. Naturally enough, this includes whenever a driver is picking up a rider or has a rider in their car. All the miles and crashes mentioned above are either en route to a pickup or during a ride.

But it’s well known that drivers also spend a non-trivial amount of time “deadheading,” or cruising around waiting to be hailed. Exactly how much time is difficult to estimate, as it would differ widely based on time of day, but I don’t think that Uber’s decision to exclude this time is correct. After all, taxi drivers are still on the clock when they are cruising for fares, and Uber drivers must travel to and from destinations, keep moving to get to hot spots and so on. Driving without a passenger in the car is inarguably a major part of being an Uber driver.

It’s entirely possible that the time spent deadheading isn’t much, and that the accidents that occurred during that time are few in number. But the alternatives are also possible, and I think it’s important for Uber to disclose this data; cities and riders alike are concerned with the effects of ride-hail services on traffic and such, and the cars don’t simply disappear or stop getting in accidents when they’re not hired.

When I asked Uber about this, a spokesperson said that crash data from trips is “more reliable,” as drivers may not report a crash if they’re not driving someone. That doesn’t seem right either, especially for fatal accidents, which would be reported one way or the other. Furthermore, Uber would be able to compare FARS data to its internal metrics of whether a driver involved in a crash was online or not, so the data should be similarly if not identically reliable.

The spokesperson also explained that a driver may be “online” in Uber at a given moment but in fact driving someone around using another rideshare service, like Lyft. If so, and there is an accident, the report would almost certainly go to that other service. That’s understandable, but again it feels like this is a missing piece. At any rate it doesn’t juice the numbers at all, since deadheading miles aren’t included in the totals used above. So “online but not hired” miles will remain a sort of blind spot for now.

You can read the full report here.

More TechCrunch

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

3 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more