An Uber delivery rider in the Netherlands. Photo: Creative Commons Franklin Heijnen / Flickr

Road collisions more likely for takeaway riders in the gig economy

  • November 11, 2022

Motorcyclists delivering hot food who pick up jobs through digital platforms are more likely to be in a collision where their bike is damaged or someone is injured than those directly employed by restaurants, finds research co-authored by Heather Ward, the co-chair of ETSC’s Road Safety Performance Index programme. 

Freelance delivery riders are also more likely to report that time pressure from their employer means they are more likely to speed (56% versus 39%) or ride through red lights (21% versus 12%). They are also more likely to report being distracted by their phone, through which they accept jobs (57% versus 21%).

Food delivery is surging in popularity, with many takeaway services using motorcyclists or cyclists, both of whom are amongst the most vulnerable road users.

Gig riders are three times as likely to report damage to their vehicle in a collision, at 25% versus 7% for employed riders. They are nearly twice as likely to report an injury, either to themselves or someone else involved in the collision, at 11% versus 6%.

In the paper, published in Safety Science, researchers found that the increased safety risks gig workers face and the additional risks they take are down to several factors. These include companies paying less attention to the safety and well-being of riders and paying them per delivery rather than for time worked, placing them under pressure to carry out more deliveries. Riders also report being incentivised to accept deliveries and ride in wet and icy conditions.

The academics conducted interviews with 20 riders and ran an online survey of 319 riders, both gig workers and those employed directly by restaurants or food chains, all of whom used motorbikes for deliveries. The academics built on research conducted in 2018 which found that self-employed drivers and riders in general were more likely to be involved in a road collision.

Co-lead author Heather Ward said: “Gig riders often have to choose between earning enough from their work and riding safely, which is a choice no one should have to make. The gig economy is growing and hot food delivery, which is already popular, is becoming more so, as more people who would eat out at restaurants regularly are staying in to save money.

“We need to see a significant change to the sector to ensure rider safety, as well as that of other road users.”

David Davies, Executive Director of ETSC’s UK member the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) said: “Companies are exploiting their delivery gig-workers, risking their safety and the safety of other road users for profit. The use of delivery gig-workers in the hot food sector has expanded enormously. It is high time that the government stepped in to prevent these dangerous practices.”