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Uber lawsuit claims drivers necessarily distracted by cellphones

Ride-sharing apps seem to be the next big thing in transportation. And leading the charge in this arena is Uber, the controversial company that seemingly won't let convention or state laws stand in its way. Uber has already had a storied history here in California, including numerous legal challenges, personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

The various ride-sharing apps seem to be a great bargain. But critics say that Uber and other companies can afford to undercut traditional taxis and livery companies because they skirt required regulatory costs (like city-issued taxi licenses) and lack adequate insurance coverage. In at least one high-profile case here in California, Uber tried to legally distance itself from one of its drivers after the man caused a fatal pedestrian accident.

More established transportation services are beginning to sue ride-sharing companies - Especially Uber, which has been sued 32 times so far this year. In a recent lawsuit filed in New York, two transportation companies are alleging that Uber's "e-hail" service not only promotes distracted driving, it basically requires drivers to pay immediate attention to their cellphones while behind the wheel.

Just like in California, New York has passed laws against using cellphones while driving. But this poses a problem for any Uber drivers who want to actually have customers. When a patron requests a ride, the notification is sent out to the first driver (as decided by an algorithm), who then has just 15 seconds to accept the fare. If they happen to be driving at the time the notification comes in, they either have to accept the fare without knowing the details, turn attention to their phones (and away from the road) or lose the fare.

Even if we ignore the numerous other complaints about Uber and similar companies, it is pretty hard to justify the use of app-based services that all but require distracted driving as a condition of employment.

The reason that traditional taxis and other transportation services have become expensive is that they need to have liability safeguards in place for when serious accidents inevitably happen, and these safeguards are expensive. If ride-sharing services are here to stay, it likely won't be long before they can no longer afford to undercut their competitors.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Uber's 'E-Hail' Called a Danger to the Road," Nick Divito, April 17, 2015

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