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Are Uber Drivers Distracted?

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Uber smartphone app showing a destination on a map.

Uber drivers often use smartphones to find the shortest route to their destination.

The TV show Inside Edition (IE) reports that some people are concerned that Uber drivers become distracted when using their electronic devices while driving. Uber is a mobile app that connects people who are seeking ride services to Uber drivers who use their own cars.

On the subject of Uber, IE quotes a lawyer named Christopher Dolan who represents Huan Liu, a San Francisco woman whose 6-year-old daughter was struck and killed by an Uber driver in 2013 as they crossed the street:

‘It’s a system that requires distracted driving,’ Dolan told INSIDE EDITION. ‘It requires the driver to interact with that phone. The driver was looking at his phone, and not where he was going because that’s what the job required him to do. He was not paying attention to them; he was paying attention to the Uber app.’

Inside Edition did an investigation to determine if Uber drivers are distracted by having to look at their smartphones as they drive. The TV show’s “I-Squad” hailed rides and found that although many Uber drivers were responsible, some were distracted. For example, “One driver was texting and another was checking Google Maps. Another guy was even browsing the Internet,” IE writes.

Another driver spent a lot of time using his phone to try to find the fastest route, IE writes. IE’s Lisa Guerrero politely told him it was illegal for him to use his phone while driving, especially with customers in the vehicle. He apologized, saying he was simply looking at the map, IE writes. Another Uber driver spent time looking at Facebook, browsing the Internet, and texting as he drove during rush hour in midtown Manhattan, IE writes. When Guerrero asked him why he was using his phone while driving, he said because he works for Uber. “That’s how it works,” he said.

According to a 2014 Business Insider article, once a customer sends Uber a ride request, an Uber driver has about 15 seconds to tap his or her smartphone to accept the request. And in a 2014 article in The New York Times, an Uber driver said a driver can be suspended temporarily for ignoring ride requests. In that same Times article, Deborah Hersman, CEO and President of the National Safety Council, said the 15-second response requirement is a distraction for drivers because they are financially motivated to interact with ride requests while driving.

Uber told IE that if its drivers do not heed company rules to obey all traffic laws, they can get banned. Uber said safety was an important factor in the design of the app, and that the app does not require a driver to look at it in order to accept a fare, IE writes. Dolan, the lawyer, asked why Uber has not created a high-tech solution to “the danger they are creating.”

In Colorado, Uber has a couple thousand drivers who provide tens of thousands of rides every week, as Tierra Smith wrote for The Denver Post back in June. Smith reported that Uber plans to hire 1,000 additional drivers in Colorado this summer. She quotes Will McCollum, general manager of Uber in Colorado: “There is an extraordinary demand for more transportation options on the Front Range and high country, and this is the time we want to pledge back to the state of Colorado.” Uber has a presence in 312 cities, in 58 countries, Smith writes.

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