Uber Distracted In TexasBy: Jon Hull [caption id="attachment_1172" align="alignnone" width="530"] Uber Distracted in Texas[/caption]
My wife, Terrie, and I were on a whirl wind weekend in Texas last weekend. We visited relatives in one town 30 miles from the airport and had a combination book interview and private event at another venue some 30 miles in another direct. The last time we were in Texas we rented a car, big mistake for us! Just getting to the correct freeway from the small country disguised as an airport took a while, let alone speed limits of 70 MPH which nobody observed.
So, this time we used Uber as our transportation choice. It was also the first time we had used Uber, the popular new ride share system. In total, we took 4 rides to our destinations over the weekend, besides the hotel shuttle. We met 4 different Uber drivers who loved the opportunity Uber had afforded them to make some cash. The only problem was we encountered a distracted driver scenario that at times had us clutching tightly to anything at hand as we hurtled along packed freeways a car length from the car in front of us.
Here are our observations of the 4 drivers and what we encountered. We will offer solutions later in this piece. Driver names are fictitious.
Uber Bob picked us up at the airport. A very nice man who drove full time and has a very entrepreneurial spirit. We informed Bob that we were nervous passengers, to which he replied, “Don’t worry”. Bob double checked the destination address with us, and we were off. Once on the freeway there was stop and go traffic as it was the start of rush hour. Stop meant throw out the anchor, and go meant floor it beyond the speed limit. The first problem we saw was that Bob had his mobile device on his lap displaying his GPS coordinates. This caused him to have to physically move his head down to his lap. The next problem which completely changed Bob’s driving was that he also had his smart phone in the other hand with which he was at times looking for his next fare. When we were in “Go” mode, Bob’s driving deteriorated. Now, the whole lane was not big enough while also looking at multiple devices. He crossed the lines several times, which created a pucker factor of 10 for the two of us.
Uber Don picked us up at our relative’s home. A minister by trade with 5 children to support, he was very happy to be able to drive for Uber. Don was taking us to our airport hotel destination, and his GPS took a more direct course than Bob’s GPS. Don had his GPS device mounted on the dashboard just to the right of the steering wheel. Don seemed familiar with the area and drove more cautiously, leaving plenty of room between us and the vehicle in front of us. No white knuckles this time, whew!
Uber Frank picked us up from our hotel. Frank was totally dependent on his GPS, which he had laying in his lap. He wore glasses, but only to read. So, as we sped down the freeway, Frank would be mostly looking down while peering over the top of his glasses to view traffic at times. There was once early in to the trip where Terrie and I were both exclaiming out loud about the traffic coming to a halt in front of us. I mentioned to Frank that nobody gave much room at these speeds. Frank said, “It’s a sign of weakness to give room around these parts”. We asked him to please try and be weak as best he could because he was scaring the hell out of us. I don’t think there was any blood left in our fingers at the end of that ride.
Uber Bill picked us up for the final leg of our journey. Bill was a cheery man with a great disposition toward being an Uber driver. He viewed the opportunity to earn extra cash to make sure he could afford to keep his daughter in structured activities, and away from negative temptations. Bill’s GPS was a larger screen device, with a good picture as well as the audible play by play announcements when an upcoming exit was in range. I could see when Bill looked at his GPS, which only took looking a fraction to the right of the steering wheel. I told Bill about other Uber drivers we had during our stay and that some don’t have their GPS mounted. Bill said that he thought Uber should require all of its drivers to have their GPS devices mounted in such a way. He said, ”It’s only about 30 bucks to buy and makes all the difference in the world for safer driving”. It was nice to have a non-distracted drive this time as it was about 11:30 pm and we were spent from the day’s activities.
A couple of solutions seem to be easy fixes for Uber, and doing some quick internet searches upon arriving back in Portland turned up some interesting articles. Apparently, Uber does not claim to be a transportation company and as such, does not claim to be liable for wrecks by Uber drivers. There are serious wreck cases pending. The other Uber rule apparently causing distractions is that drivers only have 15 seconds to respond to incoming fare alerts. If they don’t respond after so many alerts, Uber can revoke their ability to drive for them.
Solution #1: Why require a driver to look at their smart phone for a fare alert while in route? Why not build into the technology that a driver cannot receive a fare alert until they communicate they have completed the last fare and are ready for the next.
Solution #2: Require all drivers to have a dash mounted GPS unit, with audible assist, which are specifically located to the right or left of the steering wheel, high up on the dash so that driver only has to move their eyes a fraction to see it.
Uber may not be “Liable” but they could easily demonstrate some social responsibility for a large problem on our nations roads. In the meantime, you might want to strengthen your grip muscles.Jon Hull is Co-Author of A Legacy Undone. He is passionate about empowering people to put their affairs in order, but also writes about keeping finances and people safe. Picture courtesy of cnbc.com is not an Uber driver