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Fatigued driving: a less obvious danger

Uber ride Fatigue causes accidents

An Uber driver runs the Uber app on his smartphone on his dashboard. Fatigued drivers for ride-share companies is a rising problem as pay rates for Uber and Lyft fall. (Creative Commons photo)

If you smelled alcohol on an Uber or Lyft driver’s breath, you’d likely tell him to let you out of the car. But something that may be equally dangerous is not as easy to spot: fatigue from long hours behind the wheel.

The Lyft app that lets that company’s drivers find customers shuts off after 14 hours and won’t come on again for six hours to allow them time to rest. But for Uber, there are no limits, according to a recent USA Today article. The article states:

“For some Uber drivers, long shifts have become the norm.  Dropping fares and profitable incentives lure them to keep driving past safe limits. Because the ride-hailing service doesn’t set a cap on how many hours its drivers can work at a time, there are few legal ways to stop them. … As a result, the potential danger for Uber passengers and drivers alike continues to grow, even as efforts to limit driving hours spring up across the country.”

Florida attorney Marvin Schulman, who has represented people injured in crashes with tired Uber drivers, told USA Today: “I’ve never come across Uber telling drivers how many hours they can work. They can just drive around the clock.”

‘Everybody’ is doing it

And Dawn Gearhart, a Seattle area coordinator for app-based drivers with the Teamsters union, said hundreds of drivers have complained they need to work longer hours because of falling pay and to chase pay incentives. She said drivers say “everybody” is driving to the point of fatigue.

One reason is that drivers get notifications that they haven’t picked up enough fares and need to get more customers to avoid being fired by Uber. Some drivers say they’ll do “just one more trip” to reach a cash goal for the day if they need to pay for gas and insurance.

USA Today related one Uber driver’s sad story. Malene Comes, who lived in Albuquerque last year, was making about $5 per hour during the week. She worked for Uber on Friday and Saturday nights to earn more, driving from 4 6 a.m. She made about $250 per weekend. But then her profit fell by $100, so she quit because she could no longer pay for the car she bought to get the job. (Uber drivers need to have late-model cars.)

Comes said she was staying awake on energy drinks but worried about her fatigue and making wrong turns near the end of her shift.

Few Uber drivers work longer hours

Uber says just 7 percent of its drivers work more than 50 hours a week. More than of the company’s drivers use the app less than 10 hours a week.

Federal law states that vehicles that carry paying passengers drive no more than 10 hours at a time. Breaks of at least eight hours between shifts are mandated. But Uber is not regulated as a common carrier, so it can avoid these regulations.

These laws also require such transportation employees to clock no more than 48 hours a week. But Uber says its drivers are independent contractors instead of employees. Drivers set their hours and manage their own expenses. Uber says it does not need to restrict hours or pay overtime.

The problem of fatigue is a bad one. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the number of auto accidents from driver fatigue at about 100,000 per year. Data have not been collected to estimate how many of these are Uber drivers or drivers working for other ride-hailing services.

Caps on hours worked

Some cities, including Chicago, have put a cap on the hours Uber and ride-share drivers can work. In Chicago it’s 10 hours a day. In New York, Uber limited it to 12 hours a day to get in line with city codes governing taxi drivers. Uber has also limited driving hours in the United Kingdom.

Uber keeps tabs on dangerous driving using accelerometer and GPS data transmitted via smartphone. It has been trying to flag unsafe driving in progress instead of investigating after the fact what happened in a dangerous situation or accident, said in a 2016 article.

“In theory, this kind of system should let the company know if a sleepy driver is making sudden swerves, like mine was. But once a driver is tired enough to detect this way, he’s already past the point where he’s endangering the lives of his passengers and anyone else on the road,” said the author of the Slate article.

In that article, Jeff Bercovici wrote that he got a ride from an Uber driver who told him he was on the road for 19 hours, trying to hit a certain number of trips per week for a bonus. Bercovici wrote:

“The guy was tired. Yawning repeatedly, he was having trouble following the directions on his phone screen and a couple times had to swerve at the last moment to avoid missing a highway interchange. I made it my goal to keep him talking all the way to the airport. Fortunately, as he dropped me off, he told me he’d decided this would be his last fare, even though he hadn’t hit the bonus target yet. He was too exhausted to keep going.”

If you are injured

If you are seriously injured in a rideshare-related fatigue accident or any accident, whether the driver is at fault or not, contact an attorney. You may also sue if you are a passenger or driver in another vehicle or are a pedestrian or bicyclist who was hit by an Uber or Lyft driver.

At Krasney Law in San Bernardino, California, we are experts at personal injury law and can help injured parties get damages for medical bills, time off work, pain and suffering and other losses. The laws and insurance situation around ride-share companies are somewhat different than private vehicles and other commercial vehicles, so it very well may pay to hire an attorney to obtain the full spectrum of damages you have coming to you.

Uninsured motorist coverage

Another way to protect yourself against monetary loss from fatigued drivers and other unsafe drivers, whether ride-share drivers or other types of drivers, is to get uninsured/underinsured insurance coverage. This covers you and close relatives who live with you if the other driver does not have adequate insurance. You can greatly increase your auto insurance coverage for a few dollars a month. And it can cover you if you are walking somewhere or riding a bicycle or are in another person’s car and get injured by a careless driver.

The initial consultation for Krasney Law is free, and we collect no fees unless there is a monetary recovery or your case goes to trial and we win. The fact is that even if we collect a contingency fee, you are likely to receive more compensation than if you deal with the insurance companies on your own. The insurance companies are a business and they are known to rip you off.

Our phone number is (909) 361-3907. Or you may contact us on the Web at We can discuss your insurance situation, the laws surrounding your case and how to proceed with doctors and medical care if you were injured. Please call us today.

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