Have you ever driven by a truck stop or rest area and noticed the semi trucks parked in the parking lot? Long haul freight drivers are required by federal law to rest for 30 minutes for every 8 hours of driving and truck drivers cannot drive for more than 11 hours in a given 24 hour period. The rest of the time must be spent resting and eating to avoid accidents caused by drowsy driving and fatigue. While many career truck drivers objected to regulations restricting driving hours when they were first implemented in 1938, the need for scheduled rest breaks and the research behind accidents caused by drowsy driving has only become stronger as the years have progressed.
In an effort to curtail the rising number of Uber accidents, the company has begun restricting drivers to many of the same regulations truck drivers experience. But will these regulations help the beleaguered company encourage safer driving practices among its drivers?
Drowsy Driving = Impaired Driving
You may not realize the impact rest has on your ability to react behind the wheel. According to the CDC, 1 in 25 adult drivers age 18 or over has fallen asleep behind the wheel in the last 30 days. In 2013 alone, drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and more than 800 deaths. Research published by the National Sleep foundation being awake for 18 hours has the same effect as a blood alcohol level of .05. Going 24 hours without sleep has the same effect on the human body as a blood alcohol level of .10. Of course, who is the most at-risk population for drowsy driving? Shift workers and commercial drivers.
New Uber Safety Regulations
While some states require commercial drivers of any kind to limit the number of hours they drive, Uber recently decided to limit all drivers to 12 hours of active time on the app. 2 hours prior to the limit and 1 hour prior to the limit, a driver will be warned of the need for a break before being locked out of the app. Algorithms are in place to not count wait times of more than 5 minutes as a part of that 12-hour limit making it theoretically possible for Uber drivers to work more than 12 hours in a day.
Will it Work?
The biggest question is, will these new regulations improve passenger safety and limit the number of accidents Uber drivers are involved in?
Uber’s new driver limits only apply to 40 percent of its drivers. The remaining 60 percent already drive less than 10 per week. Limits on an Uber driver’s number of active hours simply will not apply to the majority of its drivers. Instead, it seems as though Uber’s move to restrict driver hours is meant to appear concerned with passenger safety but not directly address it.
What Actually Causes Uber Accidents?
Sadly, most Uber accidents are not caused by drowsy driving or driver fatigue. In the last year alone, accidents involving Uber drivers have been caused by a wide variety of conditions.
In Hong Kong in April, an Uber was killed after colliding head-on with a taxi carrying a passenger.
In June a Charlotte, North Carolina Uber driver was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
One Uber driver was convicted of vehicular manslaughter in August after running into a family in San Francisco.
In each of these cases, fatigue was not cited as a main cause of the incidents. Instead, Uber accidents resulted from a wide range of conditions. The Uber driver in Hong Kong appeared to have passed out before hitting the taxi. The Uber driver in Charlotte was neither impaired nor fatigued when the choices of another person abruptly ended the driver’s life. The Uber driver in California simply drove through a crosswalk with a family present, a choice that could have been avoided had he been paying attention to what was going on around him.
Driver Time Limits May Only Be the Beginning
Uber already knows that these new time restrictions will only affect less than half of its drivers. However, perhaps the move to restrict drivers is simply the first in a series of calculated moves to address driver, passenger and pedestrian safety. Addressing driver fatigue, a condition already under scrutiny in the industry, with research already backing time restrictions could help Uber ease into more restrictive driver requirements as a whole. Since the entire company is based on independent contractors using an app, requiring drivers to submit to periodic drug testing, background checks, training or performance reviews is as simple as restricting access until they complete a requirement. These restrictions may be more effective at enhancing passenger safety than limiting the number of hours a driver can work in a 24 hour period since they address the physical safety and well being of their drivers as well as their passengers.
No matter what restrictions Uber places on its drivers, it will never be enough to guarantee the safety of every passenger that uses the ridesharing app. The carelessness of other drivers on the road as well as the sheer volume of Uber drivers around the world means accidents will happen periodically. Any efforts to enhance passenger safety will only work if they truly address the cause of the majority of the accidents throughout the community. Until then, passengers should use the ridesharing app knowing there is a possibility they will be in an accident at some point in their experience. When that happens, they should contact an attorney who can help them understand their rights, protections and insurance coverage. If you or a loved one has been involved in an Uber accident, contact the Uber accident lawyers at The Elan Law Firm to discuss your case and find out if your experience can shape the future of Uber and its safety policies.