Americans across the country have turned to rideshare services as an affordable and convenient mode of transportation, with companies like Uber leading the way. As this new service has evolved and gained popularity, it has also sparked discussion over safety and preventable auto accidents. Aside from unique issues in determining liability in Uber accidents, which stem from the company’s classification of drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, there has also been ample concern regarding a lack of regulation over rideshare services when compared to other transportation service companies – including lax rules on the amount of time drivers can be on duty and behind the wheel. In an effort to address that issue, Uber has released a nationwide update specifically targeting frequent drivers.
According to Uber, the update will limit drivers from transporting fares if they have been using the application for too long. Now rolled out nationwide, the update will attempt to combat driver fatigue with the following:
- Uber will prevent drivers who have been using the app for 12 hours (cumulative) from accessing the app to pick up riders, and will require a minimum 6-hour rest break before they can return to using the app and accepting fares.
- The new update provides periodic warnings to drivers; the first after 10 hours of app usage, a second following 11 hours, and a third and final warning in the last 30 minutes.
- To track drive-time, the update will use GPS technology to identify when Uber vehicles are in motion. According to Uber, drive time includes all hours a driver is actively in transit, as well as short waiting periods such as brief traffic stops or slow movement in heavy traffic. Longer waiting periods will not count against the total 12-hour limit.
At a time when research continually reveals the dangers of driver fatigue, the update is a welcomed change in the rideshare industry. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatigued driving has become one of the most dangerous forms of risky driving on our roads, attributed to nearly 850 deaths in 2014, and thousands of motor vehicle collisions and injuries each year. In fact, many studies, including once conducted by AAA, report that fatigued driving can be as dangerous as driving drunk, and that missing even one or two hours of rest in 24 hours makes a driver as likely to crash as if they had a BAC level at or above the .08 legal limit.
With dangers as significant as these, sensible safety policies and regulations in the transportation service industry are crucial steps to reducing risks and keeping people safe. Although it may be a step in the right direction, Uber’s latest update doesn’t go far enough in reducing risks posed by tired and drowsy drivers. That’s due to a few critical reasons:
- The update does not account for all time drivers spend “on-duty,” which means drivers who are cut off at the app’s 12-hour mark may have been driving or awake and behind the wheel for much longer. This is due in large part to the fact that the update will not count vehicle inactively lasting 5 minutes or longer against cumulative drive time. Those waits can include vehicle’s idling in traffic, queues at busy events or airports, or simply on the side of the road waiting for fares.
- The update also fails to take a driver’s “extracurricular” activities into account, including whether or not they work other jobs during their mandatory rest breaks. Many Uber drivers who need to work and earn wages also drive for rideshare companies like Lyft, or services that deliver food or products to customers’ homes. Those drivers may simply switch over to another app where they have a blank slate of drive time, or switch back to Uber after 6 hours – even if they never actually took a rest break.
- One of the most glaring reasons why the update doesn’t muster up in terms of safety is the fact that 6 hours is simply not enough time to ensure a driver is adequately rested and able to safely operate a vehicle without risks posed by drowsiness or fatigue. Drivers who get less than 4 to 5 hours of sleep, AAA researchers note, have crash risks equivalent to driving with twice the legal BAC level. The app also fails to take into account longer rest breaks that are often mandated by or for transportation operators after a work week, or a 7 / 8 period. This poses further risks of chronic fatigue, and allows drivers to work as many consecutive days as they wish.
A better understanding of the update’s shortcomings can be gained when they are compared to regulations used in the commercial trucking and transportation industry to reduce risks of preventable truck accidents. For example, Hours-of-Service rules enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require at least 10 consecutive hours off duty for cargo-carrying drivers, and at least an 8-hour break for passenger carriers. They also limit total drive time to 11 and 10 hours respectively. Drivers also have limitations on the amount of hours they can work in a 7 to 8 day period, after which they must take at least 34 hours off.
Any steps to prevent driver fatigue are important, but companies cannot expect drivers to “do the right thing” – especially when it comes to something as important as safety. When fatigued drivers commit errors or moving violations that lead to accidents, or are otherwise negligent in operating their vehicles, the risks for accidents increase significantly. Fortunately, victims injured in those wrecks have a right to file personal injury lawsuits against the at-fault party (either the driver, Uber, or both), and to recover their damages.
Our Cleveland personal injury lawyers at Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP have decades of collective experience protecting the rights of victims injured in all types of car accidents, including those involving transportation service providers. Because Uber accidents can entail unique issues when it comes to liability and insurance coverage, victims harmed in these wrecks, whether as passengers, motorists, or pedestrians, should be intent on working with proven attorneys.
To discuss a recent Uber accident or any other traffic collision case, contact us for a FREE consultation.