The Shady Side of Rideshare, Part 1: Driver Danger
A basic Internet search will reveal dozens of “horror stories” in the rideshare industry that extend beyond vehicle accidents.
This should come as no surprise. When you allow a stranger into your vehicle, you never know what will happen. Since the focus tends to be on passenger safety, many people overlook driver safety.
The industry is in its infancy, so there are problems still being discovered in its operation. Drivers operate as independent contractors for these “ride-hail” apps, so their safety training is limited. Federal law allows those who receive significant training to be considered company employees—and rideshare companies want to avoid that.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the taxi industry, a very similar business, reported that the likelihood of being murdered is 20 times higher for drivers than those in other lines of work. Risky enough for you?
Recent Incidents in Oklahoma
- A female Uber driver claimed she was sexually assaulted in Oklahoma City by a passenger. The destination was the Marriott Towne Place Suites, the hotel where the passenger was staying. Upon exiting the vehicle, he told the driver he needed assistance to reach his room and that he wanted to give her a cash tip. Upon entering the room, the passenger removed his pants and the driver struggled to exit. She ran through the hotel and he pursued her all the way to the lobby. At one point, she attempted to use a luggage transporter to ward off the assailant. The Oklahoma City Police Department responded and arrested the 50-year-old passenger at the crime scene.
- Senator Bryce Marlatt of Oklahoma has been accused of inappropriately touching an Uber driver in a sexual manner. He faces a felony charge of sexual battery following the alleged incident, which he denies. The police report says that Marlatt forcefully grabbed the driver and made other advances, such as kissing her on the neck, as she was driving him to his Oklahoma City hotel. She later approached a police officer and informed him of the assault.
Related Oklahoma Legislation
The state recently implemented House Bill No. 1614, the Oklahoma Transportation Network Services Act. This created permit requirements for rideshare companies and some regulatory authority. The Act contained some safety-related provisions that help passengers, including:
- A “zero tolerance” policy for drug or alcohol use among drivers
- A requirement that drivers submit to a background check for multi-state criminal records and through the National Sex Offender Registry
- Heightened requirements for liability insurance coverage
This doesn’t protect drivers.
How Can Drivers Reduce Their Risks?
Drivers may reduce their risk in a few ways, such as not working late-night hours, not operating in areas with higher rates of crime, or not picking up passengers from bars. Obviously, most precautions can only limit risk to a certain extent.
Companies like Uber and Lyft have promoted their services as more friendly, clean, and safe than taxis. They should increase safety for their drivers, as well. One way to do that is by identifying passengers based on their credit cards and possibly their Facebook profiles. Uber has a passenger rating system in place to track and monitor passenger behavior, but it’s not completely effective.
One key problem is the volume of drivers and passengers who are new to the service and use it just once. Also, suppose a historically good passenger is heavily intoxicated or had a particularly bad day, and the driver ends up paying the price?
If Driver Is Injured by a Passenger
There have been many incidents where rideshare drivers were physically or sexually assaulted. Uber encourages drivers who believe they are in danger to stop the vehicle and call 911. The company has a specific protocol for assisting and providing data to law enforcement. If a driver reports such an incident, the company will “permanently remove someone’s access to Uber.”
Uber’s driver-partners are independent contractors, which significantly reduces Uber’s potential for liability if a driver is hurt by an unruly passenger. Drivers may pursue civil recovery for damages against passengers, just as any individual has the right to do.
Driver Safety Training
Both Uber and Lyft are in a constant mode of recruitment for drivers, as turnover is high. A recent CNBC report indicated that merely 4% of drivers make it to one year. Taxis typically offer more standardized safety features, which include a barrier between the front and back areas of the cab and the presence of video recorders. A former Uber driver explained that training is very minimal. One driver who worked in Southern California and Seattle said he routinely kept a firearm with him on duty due to fears of a potential assault. (For the record, Uber does not permit drivers to carry firearms in their vehicles while on duty.)
Alexandra LaManna from Lyft has said that safety is a key priority and encourages drivers who feel uncomfortable to stop and end the ride. Uber has GPS-tracking, a passenger rating system, and a “cashless” model that inherently deters robbery attempts that plague taxi drivers. Will these be enough to keep drivers safe? The evidence seems to point strongly to “NO.”
Rideshare companies may benefit from offering drivers video cameras at reduced prices. That would at least show that they’re invested in protecting their not-quite-employees.
If you’re a rideshare driver who was injured by a passenger (or in an accident), we can guide you. Contact Car Accident Help at (405) 285-4357 for a free consultation.
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