Part of what has made ridesharing apps like Uber so popular among modern users is the speed at which drivers can arrive at the desired pickup location. Many passengers have traded traditional taxis for rideshare vehicles because of how quickly an Uber or Lyft can arrive from the time of the request. What makes this possible is the setup of the app. Drivers nearby have just 10 to 15 seconds to accept a ride request when it appears or else the request goes to the next available driver. While this spells convenience to riders, it can result in deadly driver distraction.
Distracted driving is one of the greatest contributors to car accidents around the world. In 2015, about 391,000 people sustained serious injuries in accidents involving distracted drivers in the U.S. Another 3,477 died in distraction-related crashes. Cell phone use is a major distraction to the modern driver. Cell phone use absorbs a driver’s manual, visual, and cognitive attention. With an estimated 660,000 drivers using cell phones while driving at any moment during daylight hours, it’s no surprise that related accidents occur.
Drivers cannot dedicate their full attention to the road when operating cell phones. Uber drivers are no exceptions. Yet the company designed its app to force drivers to look at and manually operate their mobile devices while on the road – if they want business. An Uber driver can choose to ignore the request while driving, but it’s at the expense of losing the rider and the payment. The driver can also pull over to accept the request, but this isn’t always practical or safe. After about 15 seconds pass, the driver loses the opportunity to accept the job forever.
Failing to accept rides doesn’t just equal less money for Uber drivers. It hurts their “acceptance rates” – a rating that riders can see. A low acceptance rate can mean fewer rides, less business, and eventually getting deactivated as a driver. This setup creates a considerable incentive to use the app while driving. Other distractions Uber drivers face are trying to read the small text on the mobile device for addresses or directions, accepting phone calls from waiting riders, and engaging with passengers (something Uber encourages its drivers to do). All around, driving for Uber can be significantly more distracting than typical driving.
The Uber app for drivers makes it almost impossible to avoid distraction. This presents a major dilemma for drivers – drive safely or stay in business? The “ping” of a new ride request notification can be very difficult for drivers to ignore. It draws their attention and promises more money. Most drivers in this situation will hear the notification, look at his/her phone, assess the location, make a decision, and manually respond to the request. This process takes the driver’s eyes off the road, mind off driving, and hands off the wheel. It is an incredibly dangerous form of distraction.
If an Uber driver causes or contributes to a collision while involved with the Uber app in some way, he or she may be liable for injuries. Uber does well to avoid liability for many accidents, since drivers are technically independent contractors. The company’s $1 million insurance policy may kick in if the driver was en route to pick up a passenger or had a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Other than that, injured parties may only look to the driver’s insurance company for recovery. After a crash involving a potentially distracted Uber driver, consult with a car accident attorney to explore your rights.