If you regularly use Uber, Lyft or other rideshare companies, you are probably accustomed to opening your app, making a few clicks, and quickly requesting a ride. Unfortunately, though, your rideshare driver has to do the same in order to accept your request. Whether this amounts to a distracted Uber driver depends on who you ask.
Accepting a Fare
Uber believes its drivers accept rides with a single click anywhere on the screen, allowing them to approve trips without ever looking at the phone. In theory, this is possible. The app emits an audible notification, and the driver has about 15 seconds to touch the screen to accept the fare.
In practice, however, most drivers want to look at the location of the rider, the destination, and the time required to complete the trip before accepting. This means they may lift their phone, read the text, do some mental math, or look at the map, all before clicking the screen.
Pressure to Act Quickly
A dispatch center matches cab drivers with riders via radio communication. On the other hand, the foundation of the Uber system is the smartphone app that links drivers with passengers. While a radio can be distracting, taxi drivers only have to respond verbally. They can also wait to respond if they are in heavy traffic or a dangerous situation.
Uber drivers, meanwhile, have a very limited time to respond to a ride request. They have about 15 seconds, which is rarely long enough to pull over to the side of the road, come to a complete stop, review the ride request, and accept it.
Missed requests not only cause drivers to miss those fares, but it also hurts their acceptance rate. Uber tracks this statistic, and riders can use it to choose the most reliable drivers when requesting a ride. In addition, Uber has the option of suspending drivers for too many unaccepted fares in a row.
This policy means that it not only hurts the driver’s immediate income, but can also decrease future income. For this reason, many Uber drivers are eager to look at their phone and accept or decline the fare as quickly as possible.
Uber Taken to Task Over Distractions
Many safety experts question Uber’s assertion that drivers do not need to look at the app to accept rides. CEO of the National Safety Council Deborah Hersman even told the New York Times’ Bits blog that rideshare drivers accepting a fare had to give visual, manual, and cognitive attention to the app — taking their attention away from the road.
Looking at the Uber driver app, it becomes obvious immediately that a quick glance is sometimes not enough. Uber recommends that all drivers use hands-free devices and holders for their smartphones. Still, the app text is small and difficult to read at that distance.
How Uber and other rideshare companies defend their apps in court against distracted driving charges has yet to be seen. But you can expect them to defend their design and place blame on drivers. Still, the Uber accident lawyers at Ostroff Injury Law will fiercely defend their clients injured by distracted Uber drivers.