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Ride services and distracted driving risks

Ride services such as Uber and Lyft rely on driver responses to smartphones to pick up fares and eliminate the inconvenience incurred by traditional taxi passengers in Manhattan who have to hail a cab. However, safety advocates and policy makers argue about the greater risk of distracted driving and car accidents because ride service drivers take their eyes off of the road to quickly respond to a device to answer calls.

An Uber driver usually has 15 seconds to tap the phone and accept a fare after the phone beeps loudly. A driver has to quickly look at the device, determine how far away the customer is and then decide whether to pick up the customer. If there is no response within 15 seconds, another driver gets the fare. Failure to respond to several consecutive calls may lead to the suspension of Uber drivers in New York.

There have not been many reports of accidents involving distracted Uber drivers. Some drivers say they have no problems with this technology. Others admit that the 15-second limit makes it difficult to pull over and make a decision on taking the fare.

Uber stated that its app was designed with safety in mind and that drivers can respond to the audible tone by touching anyplace on the screen without looking at the device. Lyft claims that it urges its drivers to use hands-free navigation, a phone-mount and safe-driving practices.

A National Safety Board chief executive, however, service drivers have to quickly respond to these devices to make money. She said that it is virtually uncontested that the visual, manual and cognitive attention needed to use these devices is distracting.

In fact, one lawsuit was filed against Uber and there another case was against Luft in California claiming that the services were negligent through their drivers’ use of hand-held devices. The Uber lawsuit includes a wrongful death claim for the death of a 6-year-old and alleges that Uber technology is inherently dangerous.

Auto accident victims suffering injuries caused by a distracted driver may be able to obtain compensation for serious injuries and other losses. Therefore, they should explore their legal rights and options following an accident.

Source: The New York Times, “Distracted driving and the risks of ride-hailing services like Uber,” Matt Richtel, Dec. 21, 2014