Whether delivery drivers are transporting packages, groceries, takeout food, or people, they’re also carrying a greater risk, compared to the average motorist, of getting seriously hurt.
We dug into a decade’s worth of data from reputable sources across the country to make the connections no one else was making and piece together the bigger picture of what it means—in terms of your own personal safety—to be a delivery driver.
As we compiled and interpreted our findings, we were shocked to learn the magnitude of the dangers drivers face. We were also disturbed to find how scarce safety data is pertaining to independent contractors, who make up a huge chunk of the delivery driver occupation.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics itself admitted in 2020 that it doesn’t have a lot of data on these contractors. Yet the data that does exist points to the conclusion that gig workers in the delivery driver occupation are at least as much at risk as those who are employees, if they aren’t in even more danger. In so many of these studies, gig workers are ignored and invisible, and the dangers they face are unseen, too. By exploring and extrapolating the known data about delivery driver dangers overall, we can illustrate what these often overlooked gig drivers are facing.
In 2020, there were 59 million people doing some sort of contract or “gig” work in the United States, according to Statista. Considering that the total U.S. workforce was 147.79 million, gig workers amount to nearly 40% of workers nationwide.
The popular perception of gig work is as a side job, but for plenty of workers, it’s more than a side hustle. It’s their livelihood. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 1 in 10 workers nationwide relies on gig work for their primary income.
That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. Many freelancers do well, financially and otherwise, in this unconventional work arrangement. Studies by the ADP Research Institute and Edelman Intelligence (commissioned by freelancing platform Upwork) have shown that freelancers overwhelmingly choose contract work over a traditional job, and the U.S. Small Business Association Office of Advocacy reported that self-employed families have a much higher net worth.
The problem is that there are significant disparities in income and safety among freelancers. A big part of this disparity is the distinction between skilled versus unskilled contract work. Although “skilled” freelancers earned more money per hour than 70 percent of American workers in 2019, according to CNBC, only about 45% of freelancers fit into this “skilled” category. Those that don’t—the majority of contract workers—are more likely to struggle financially and to face unfavorable work conditions.
Among these freelancers doing what is widely considered to be “unskilled” work, a surprisingly large proportion are delivery drivers. It’s no coincidence that unskilled freelance workers are more likely than skilled freelancers to work for companies with a reputation for poor treatment of workers.
Given that 24% of all gig workers are in the transportation and warehousing industry, according to the ADP Research Institute, it’s impossible to have a truly informed conversation about the dangers to delivery drivers without mentioning the gig economy. The limited data available on gig work may cause delivery drivers to underestimate the risks.
In its report of 2017 and 2018 safety incidents, Uber reported more than 100 crash-related fatalities. Unfortunately, the number of fatalities trended upward, not downward, from year to year. While 2017 saw 49 crash-related Uber fatalities, 2018 saw 58, an increase of 18 percent.
Uber may be one of the only companies to report crash fatality data to the public, but it’s far from alone in having those crashes affect its workforce. Other companies involved in transporting people and packages are likely to see comparable rates of injury and fatality collisions (adjusted for those companies’ size and location).
Uber hasn’t always provided this data on safety incidents. The company began compiling—and making public—safety transparency reports that involve all types of severe safety incidents following a 2018 CNN report on sexual assaults committed by rideshare drivers, stating that Uber “wanted to be part of the solution.”
Whether they are ferrying human passengers or delivering packages, those who make a living as a driver are exposed to a greater likelihood of being involved in a motor vehicle collision. Factors like long hours on the road and the resulting driver fatigue can contribute to accidents among paid drivers. So can the sheer amount of time they spend on the road—significantly more time than those whose work is outside the delivery, courier, and transportation industries.
For the driver who delivers packages, messages, and products, the risks don’t end when they leave the roadway. Instead, delivery drivers encounter a host of safety hazards once they exit their vehicles. A significant source of danger comes at the hands—or rather, the snarling mouths—of poorly restrained pets at a residence.
In 2020, more than 5,800 postal workers were attacked by dogs while delivering the mail, according to the United States Postal Service.
California saw the largest number of dog bite injury claims submitted by postal workers in 2020, with 782, the United States Postal Service reported. Next were Texas (402 dog bites), Ohio (369), New York (295), Pennsylvania (291), Illinois (290), and Michigan (253). Florida, New Jersey, and Virginia round out the top 10 states for dog bite injuries among postal workers, with 198, 179, and 169 attacks, respectively. The single city with the most dog attacks on postal workers recorded in 2020 was Houston, with 73 reports, but both Chicago and Los Angeles were the sites of more than 50 postal worker dog bites in 2020.
Dog bites, as the USPS noted in its report, are preventable—but the onus is on owners. When your job requires you to walk right up to the mailbox, porch, or door of a private residence where a vicious dog may not be suitably contained, there’s little that you as a mail carrier or delivery driver can do to avoid being bitten. Often, delivery drivers are laden with heavy or bulky packages that make it even harder for them to get away from the snapping jaws of an aggressive animal.
Who is at risk of dog bites on the job? Any carrier or delivery driver who needs to leave the relative safety of their vehicles, especially to hand-deliver packages or messages to a private residence, could be bitten in the course of their work. That includes not only postal workers employed by the USPS but also employees of companies like FedEx, UPS, DHL, and smaller logistics and delivery companies.
In June 2021, a FedEx driver in Illinois was so severely mauled by two dogs while making a delivery that he lost his left hand and wrist as a result of the attack. While the homeowner was away from the property, the dogs managed to charge through the front door, according to Newsweek.
Delivery drivers can’t let their guard down just because they seem to have made it back from the front door unscathed. An Ohio Amazon delivery driver was bitten by a dog as it was being walked past her on a leash, according to WLWT Cincinnati News. The victim reported that the person walking the dog left the scene, dog in tow, without hesitation.
There isn’t any gig-specific data available on the number of dog bite injuries sustained while delivering packages, groceries, takeout, alcohol, or other items. Despite the lack of hard data, the only logical assumption is that gig delivery drivers face the same dog bite risks that USPS drivers and other traditionally employed delivery drivers do.
Online shopping has become vastly more prevalent in recent years, but last year, the pandemic prompted a surge of additional e-commerce spending to the tune of $900 billion, according to media and news company Retail Leader.
Given this worldwide digital shopping spree, it’s no surprise that, today, packages are delivered every day of the week.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 3,760 courier and messenger work injuries occurred on Wednesdays in 2019, accounting for a full 20% of occupational injuries in this profession.
To put it in perspective, more than 8 times as many couriers and messengers got hurt on the job on Wednesdays than on Sundays. Monday is the second most dangerous day to make deliveries, followed by Tuesday and Thursday.
As any delivery driver can attest, making deliveries isn’t a leisurely job. You don’t cruise around at your own preferred pace and take your sweet time carrying packages to purchasers’ doorsteps. Companies are constantly rushing their delivery drivers, whether they are employees or independent contractors, to transport more packages at a faster pace.
This frantic speed forces drivers to work in less than optimal ways. Some delivery drivers feel pressured to exceed the speed limit, roll through stop signs, and otherwise pay less attention to the road and more attention to the clock and to the dispatcher constantly demanding more deliveries in less time. All of these actions can raise drivers’ risks of being in a car accident.
Even if you refuse to compromise on obeying traffic safety laws, this rush can still put you at risk. Skipping breaks, for example, can mean that you’re on the road even when your attention is elsewhere due to hunger, the need for a bathroom break, or just the long, monotonous hours.
Companies that are notorious for rushing their delivery drivers tend to also see higher rates of serious work injuries. For example, Amazon and the Delivery Service Partners (DSPs) with which it contracts had been sued in nearly a dozen states for pressuring drivers to work through legally mandated breaks, according to the Seattle Times. Amazon delivery drivers have reported that their workload is so heavy that they don’t even have enough time during a shift to pull over to relieve themselves, forcing them to “pee in bottles” instead of using a sanitary restroom, another Seattle Times article reported.
It’s no surprise, then, that Amazon’s contract delivery drivers were involved in at least 60 crashes resulting in serious injuries between June 2015 and September 2019, an investigation by ProPublica found. At least 10 deaths resulted from these collisions. Amazon largely avoided having to pay legal and medical bills in these cases, The New York Times reported, despite profiting off of the hard work of the drivers routinely rushed by the online retail giant or the logistics companies with which it contracts.
Realistically, the inherent hazards of driving for a living mean that some delivery drivers will be involved in crashes, regardless of which company they work for. However, it’s telling that, according to a report by the Strategic Organizing Center, drivers employed by Amazon Delivery Service Partners are nearly 3 times more likely to suffer injuries serious enough to cause them to lose time at work than drivers employed by UPS.
Too many American workers are killed on the job. Between 2016 and 2019, 5,553 people died in workplace fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Delivery drivers are severely overrepresented in workplace fatality rates.
The combined occupations of delivery truck drivers and driver/sales workers accounted for 1,005 of these workplace fatalities, or 20% of all work fatalities during these years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This category of jobs includes both light and heavy truck drivers as well as delivery men and women, route drivers, driver salespeople, route sales representatives, pizza delivery drivers, general driver job titles, and other roles, according to the National Center for O∙NET Development.
Occupational hazards exist in every line of work, but as we’ve already seen above, delivery drivers die on the job at disproportionately high rates. When you really dig into the data, it becomes clear that life as a delivery driver is significantly riskier than many jobs that are more commonly perceived as being dangerous.
Case in point: police officers.
If you read, watch, or listen to the news, you can almost certainly recall stories where a police officer was killed in a confrontation with an armed and dangerous individual or in a high-speed crash chasing after a suspect who posed a public threat.
Yet the number of work-related delivery driver deaths outnumber that of police officers nearly two to one. While 86 police officers suffered fatal injuries on the job in 2019, a combined 162 drivers/sales workers and light truck drivers were killed that same year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Aside from the statistics themselves, there are major distinctions between the dangers facing a police officer and those facing people who drive for a living.
For one thing, there’s the sheer perception of the job. From the news media—and often bolstered by what we see in fiction—everyone knows the risks of being a police officer. The dangerous aspects of the work, like responding to a call involving an armed suspect, are central to what a lot of people think of as an officer’s daily life.
Officers know that every shift they work could put them in harm’s way. In tragic situations when the worst does happen—when an officer loses their life in the line of duty—they are recognized and memorialized as a hero, and their families often receive benefits.
When a delivery driver gets behind the wheel, though, there’s no greater calling to serve and protect motivating them. Whether driving is their full-time profession or their side hustle, the (usually modest) money they earn is typically their sole reason for taking the job. And when they’re killed while on the clock, they aren’t honored or memorialized. Depending on whether the driver was classified as an employee or a gig worker, the family for whom they had been working so hard to provide may not be entitled to any benefits at all.
The dangers facing police officers may seem a lot more closely connected with their work as law enforcement officers than those pertaining to delivery drivers seem to their profession. In spite of (or maybe because of) this, police officers are much better prepared to face these dangers.
Police officers spend months training for the job. In police academy training, new officers learn self-defense tactics, firearms usage, and emergency vehicle operations, all of which can help protect them from the risks of the job. For many delivery drivers, no commercial driver’s license is needed. The sum of their training may be watching a few online videos that have little to do with keeping themselves safe and more to do with how to use an app or what a route dispatcher will demand of them.
Let’s not forget that these numbers tell only a small part of the story. Behind these numbers are real people. For every driver who loses their life, there are families and friends—often, children—whose lives will never be the same.
Given the number of crash-related traffic fatalities among delivery drivers—like Amazon delivery driver Joshua Clark, who was only 21 when he died at the scene of a collision in Durham, North Carolina, in July 2021—it’s reasonable to ask what could be done to make the road safer. Interventions like defensive driving courses and more advanced safety features built into vehicles could go a long way toward protecting the drivers who make our world keep going ‘round by ferrying people and packages from place to place.
Unfortunately, even if these driving safety measures were implemented, they might not protect all delivery workers. What about those who are hit and killed while on foot or on a bicycle, like the April 2021 death of 37-year-old Xing Long Lin, a sushi delivery driver from Queens who was on a scooter when an out-of-control vehicle struck him?
Too often, the deaths of drivers aren’t accidental at all. Instead, they’re plotted by perpetrators motivated by greed, rage, or some unknown motive.
In many cases, drivers are targeted for their vehicles. Wired reported that carjackings are up, posing a particular problem for gig workers—especially those who bring their small children on delivery shifts with them because they don’t have childcare available.
In March 2021, Mohammad Anwar, a 66-year-old Uber Eats driver, was carjacked and killed by two teens in Washington, D.C.
Cars aren’t the only delivery vehicles stolen. Electric bikes are commonly used to make deliveries in busy cities like New York, and—in instances like the March 2021 shooting death of DoorDash delivery driver Francisco Villalva Vitinio—drivers are sometimes killed for their bikes.
Electric bike theft is a growing problem. From 2019 to 2020, the number of electric bike thefts nearly doubled, from 166 to 328, according to The New York Times. Vitinio’s murder proves that some of these thieves won’t think twice about killing the bike’s rider to get their hands on the vehicle.
A robbery was the motive behind the fatal stabbing of 31-year-old Uber Eats driver Ryan Munsie Graham in Haltom City, Texas, in January 2021, Fox News reported. The victim’s car was not stolen, but her cell phone was. Two 14-year-olds were later arrested in connection with her murder.
Road rage incidents don’t always turn fatal, but spending more time on the road makes delivery drivers more likely to get caught in the crosshairs of an aggressive driver. Authorities determined that 25-year-old Stacy Corley’s June 2021 shooting death in Walnut Creek, California, while delivering food for DoorDash was the result of road rage.
In some cases, like the interstate shooting death of Ceyonne Riley, an Uber Eats driver and 25-year-old mother in New Orleans, there is no known reason for the violence.
The same is true for Noel Njoku, a 48-year-old father of four who NBC News reported was shot multiple times inside his vehicle while delivering food in Mitchellville, Maryland, in August 2021.
And FedEx Driver Robert Williams, a father of seven who was shot and killed in his delivery truck in Jackson, Mississippi, also in August 2021.
And 59-year-old Asa “Junior” Wood, a Georgia postal worker shot and killed while on his delivery route, once again in August 2021. When law enforcement closed in on a person of interest in the shooting, a shootout commenced.
For the grieving families of these murdered drivers, what prompted the tragic and senseless violence may always be a mystery.
Taken together, these disparate pieces of data illustrate the enormity of the risks that delivery drivers are facing every time they start a shift, not to mention the many types of dangers they could encounter.
If you are a delivery driver or you have a loved one who is, knowing these risks is one of the most important steps you can take to stay safe. Choose the companies and programs for which you deliver, as well as the shifts and routes you accept, with safety in mind. If possible, avoid continuing to work for any company that makes you feel unsafe, whether because the workload is unsustainable or for any other reason. If you are ever threatened with physical harm for your vehicle, packages, cell phone, or personal valuables, remember that no amount of money is worth your life.
Occupations that involve driving for a living will always pose some sort of risk because spending more time on the road makes you statistically more likely to be involved in a crash. That said, the work of a delivery driver doesn’t have to be anywhere near this dangerous. Companies can and should take steps to protect their drivers and other workers.