Accidents involving car-sharing vehicles: Users claim poor upkeep but experts say drivers' inexperience a more likely factor
SINGAPORE — Mr Ahmad Syatibi books a car-sharing vehicle once or twice every month to run his errands but while he finds such cars convenient, the university undergraduate has become increasingly concerned about the cleanliness and maintenance of such vehicles.
- Regular users of car-sharing services have complained that the cars are poorly maintained and dirty
- Car-sharing services however said that they abide by the Land Transport Authority's mandatory maintenance regime
- They also said the users can give feedback on cars that are faulty or dirty
- Experts said that it is likely that most accidents involving car-sharing vehicles comes down to users
- A study in South Korea found that car-sharing negatively impacts road safety
SINGAPORE — Mr Ahmad Syatibi books a car-sharing vehicle once or twice every month to run errands but while he finds such cars convenient, the university undergraduate has become increasingly concerned about the cleanliness and maintenance of such vehicles.
“My worst experience was driving one of the cheaper models. When I drove, I can feel it’s not well-maintained, engine oil haven’t changed (sic), brakes also squeal. The interior and exterior of the car are also dusty, and the maintenance light was on. This is basic servicing, you know, the one you do every year,” said the 23-year-old.
Another car-sharing user, who only wanted to be known as Mr Muhamad, spoke of similar experiences.
“There’s a lot of times I choose not to drive after having booked the car because the quality of the car is bad and I’m not going to risk it,” the 27-year-old engineer said, adding that he uses car-sharing vehicles almost every week.
He added that he once left the a car on the roadside because of a "burning smell" and there was also a time when the brakes of the car malfunctioned.
Recent fatal accidents involving cars rented from car-sharing companies have put a spotlight on the safety of such cars and whether car-sharing vehicles pose a safety risk on roads.
Earlier this month (January), a GetGo car hit an SBS Transit bus, killing the car driver, while seven bus passengers were taken to the hospital. A video clip of the accident has gone viral on social media.
Last year, another viral video showed a BlueSG car crashing into a road divider, though no injuries were reported.
ARE CAR-SHARING DRIVERS TO BLAME?
Road safety experts and academics whom TODAY spoke to said that more critical studies are needed to understand the effects of car-sharing on road safety in Singapore, but at least one expert said there is evidence based on studies overseas that car-sharing does indeed cause more traffic accidents.
Dr Prateek Bansal, assistant professor at the National University of Singapore's college of design and engineering, pointed to a 2019 study in South Korea which investigated the effect of car-sharing services on the rate of accidents.
The study found that car-sharing worsened road safety due to drivers' irresponsible attitudes, particularly among experienced drivers who had little respect for the vehicles, as they did not own them.
Other reasons include drivers’ inexperience and also a lack of checks by companies on drivers’ competency.
He added that there is also what seems to be a lack of checks for who is actually behind the wheel of such car-sharing vehicles.
"For example, someone can use another person’s account to drive even if they don’t have a license. I haven’t heard of this happening, but there isn't any technology for car-sharing companies to check who is driving at the wheel,” said Dr Bansal.
Transport engineering consultant Mr Gopinath Menon pointed out that generally the skill level of a driver is one of the key factors affecting the rate of accidents.
“Accidents usually happen because of three things: the road, the vehicle or the driver. Since Singapore roads are well-maintained and cars are regularly checked by LTA, accidents occur most likely due to the driver, whether they obey traffic laws or not,” said Mr Menon.
According to the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) regulatory framework for the point-to-point sector, car-sharing vehicles fall under the same purview as self-drive private hire cars.
Such cars have to undergo an inspection every two years for cars more than three years old and annual inspection for cars that are more than 10 years old.
Though there may not be evidence of car-sharing affecting accident rates in Singapore, Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor Walter Theseira said that the higher premiums covering for-hire cars suggest that insurers acknowledge there are higher risks for cars that are rented out.
“Fundamentally, this is because a for-hire car is driven by a wider range of drivers with varying driving experience and records. Insurers have to charge higher premiums to account for this,” said Assoc Prof Theseira, who specialises in economics and urban transportation.
Assoc Prof Theseira pointed out however that it is also possible that the visibility of car-sharing brands has led to the impression that car-sharing vehicles are more prone to accidents.
“Car-sharing vehicles are used more than privately owned vehicles, and they are also more prominent because they are branded by the car-sharing operator. This means that their accidents are more likely to make it to social media and the news, which gives us the impression that they are more involved in accidents. But only the insurers will know if they are in fact more risky,” he said.
TODAY has asked the Singapore Police Force and LTA for a breakdown of car-sharing vehicles that have been involved in road accidents.
ARE POORLY MAINTAINED CARS ALSO A CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
While there some evidence that the drivers are to blame for such accidents, renters like Mr Muhamad and Mr Ahmad point to the poor state of car-sharing vehicles.
“I feel the quality of the car affects accident rates by a lot. Since I’ve had past bad experiences with car-sharing vehicles, I have been a bit more wary and rarely use them any more,” said Mr Muhamad.
Dr Bansal said that some users he has encountered have complained about the lack of cleanliness and maintenance of these cars, which can be a factor affecting accident rates.
However, he added, it is “harsh” to attribute the lack of maintenance to car-sharing companies as they do adhere to general maintenance practices.
“There are general maintenance practices in place for car-sharing companies, but anomalies can still happen, even in regular usage,” said Dr Bansal.
CAR-SHARING COMPANIES SAY CARS ARE WELL MAINTAINED
Car-sharing companies however told TODAY that do regular cleaning and servicing of the cars, in addition to the mandatory vehicle checks conducted by LTA.
Ms Jenny Lim, head of electric car-sharing platform BlueSG said that preventive maintenance checks are done at least once every three months and the fleet is cleaned weekly.
Meanwhile, GetGo's chief executive, Mr Toh, said its cars are "inspected as well as cleaned regularly" and that their fleet undergoes frequent mandatory inspections.
Drivelah also said that hygiene and maintenance is not an issue on its platform as it rents out personally owned cars.
“Most of our hosts list their own cars on our platform as a means to get additional income. Therefore, the cars are clean, well-maintained, and taken care of since it is in the owners’ best interest as they also use the cars personally,” said Drivelah's head of marketing Ms Bavani Srinu.
The three companies also pointed out that while maintenance works are regularly carried out, they also rely on their customers to upkeep the cleanliness and provide feedback on the quality of the cars.
BlueSG users, for example, can grade the state of their rented vehicle on the platform's app after each session while GetGo's app allows users to share detailed damage and cleanliness feedback.
Ms Lim from BlueSG added: “Our members only pay on a pay-per-use basis, which means, if ever, for whatever reasons, they come across an electric vehicle that is deemed to be unacceptable to them, they can always choose to reject the electric vehicle and return it back to the service and give feedback to us. For such cases, no costs are charged to them if their rental did not commence.”
Some companies also have specific regulations and penalties to curb errant drivers.
For example, GetGo permanently bans repeat offenders from their platform.
Car-sharing companies also list out financial penalties in their terms and conditions, which are incurred if the cars are damaged or involved in accidents.
Tribecar also said it takes an educational approach to reducing accidents on the road by working with the Traffic Police and participating in programmes like road safety week.
GetGo added that the highly encourage all drivers to practice the following safe driving habits: get enough rest so they can remain alert on the road, cater enough time each trip so they don’t have to rush and drive aggressively, and always drive in accordance with traffic regulations.