Gig Economy Drivers at Greater Risk of Crashing, Report Finds

An academic report has found that drivers in the gig economy may be at higher risk of crashing because of the time demands placed on them by their payment structure.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) found that 42% of drivers who were self employed – many who picked up work through apps like Uber – had been involved in an accident and 47% admitted breaking the speed limit because of time pressures.

The majority of those surveyed – 63 per cent – are not provided with safety training on managing risks on the road. Sixty-five per cent said that they are not given any safety equipment such as a high visibility vest and over 70 per cent resort to providing their own.

And an alarming three-quarters said they did not feel their company cared about their safety whilst they were at work.

The report was welcomed by Catriona Bogle from who said passengers “should take heed of these findings.”

“If the self employed drivers using apps like Uber or Lyft do not feel their company cares about their safety then by that same finding they cannot think they care about their passengers, either.”

The report’s authors, Dr Nicola Christie and Heather Ward (UCL Centre for Transport Studies), carried out in depth interviews with drivers, riders and their managers and also looked at results from an online survey.

An alarming 42 per cent of drivers and riders said their vehicle had been damaged as a result of a collision while working and one in ten saying that someone had been injured. Eight per cent said that they had been injured themselves and 2 per cent that someone else had been injured.

“Our findings highlight that the emergence and rise in the popularity of gig work for couriers could lead to an increase in risk factors affecting the health and safety of people who work in the gig economy and other road users,” explained Ms Ward.

“As more workers enter the economy and competition rises, the number of hours they need to work and distances they must travel to earn a stable income both increase. We know this is an issue but don’t know exactly how far it extends as not all companies need to report the number of self-employed couriers they use to the government.”

One participant in the survey said the structure of their work meant they were more likely to speed or go through red lights. “You must stay within your time windows.” one person told the authors. “The customer gets a delivery window when the parcel will be delivered and if you go out of those windows, you get fined for it.”

Ms Bogle, who works with private hire companies who use apps, said it was “important to differentiate from those in the ‘gig economy’ and those using technology to provide customers with a better experience, such as local minicab firms.”

“This report is not saying that it is the use of apps which may make accidents statistically more likely, it’s the self employed, insecure and low paid element of working; the pressure to do a higher number of jobs and work more hours – which makes accidents more likely.”

The UCL report, includes a list of recommendations for companies using self-employed couriers and taxi drivers to limit the pressure drivers and riders are under.

These include introducing time blocks for couriers to sign up and be paid for, rather than a drop rate. If used, drop rates should take into account the time taken to travel safely within the speed limit and perform administrative functions such as scanning parcels and obtaining signatures.

Other risk points for drivers and riders include tiredness – particularly among parcel couriers – from overwork and the intense pressure of self-employed parcel delivery, with many reporting regular near misses and collisions.

Professor Christie said: “In previous years the UK had a good road safety record, but de-regulation over the last few years has left self-employed couriers and taxi drivers at an increased risk of exploitation. The Health and Safety Executive has regulations on safety at work, but these don’t apply to those whose work takes place on public highways.”

Road Safety Trust chief executive Sally Lines said the report “makes for very worrying reading and demonstrates that an enquiry into the gig economy and road safety is needed urgently.”

The research was funded by the Road Safety Trust, with support and fieldwork from Further Afield.

Uber drivers accept bookings through their smartphones, which set the route to the destination, while couriers for Amazon Flex have their deliveries set on an app.

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