With ridesharing services like Uber now operating legally in Miami-Dade, many consumers are pleased to have a viable option other than taxis for getting around without a car. But will an influx of new Uber drivers result in more accidents or fewer in the county?
Miami-Dade Approves Ridesharing
In May, the Miami-Dade County Commission legalized ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber. The companies had been operating for years despite a lack of legal approval, but the commission’s action allowed the ridesharing services to gain official recognition and licensing.
A number of the county’s taxi drivers opposed the move, noting that legalization would disadvantage their businesses and would allow unlimited competition. Opponents also have argued that the lack of a requirement for background checks, including fingerprinting, of the Lyft and Uber drivers provides the companies with an unfair advantage.
The commission’s action left the companies, known as transportation network entities, responsible for handling their own background checks of their drivers. Prior to May, the companies racked up approximately $4 million in fines during the time that they operated outside local ordinances.
Some Miami-Dade officials felt that options like Uber are needed to provide travelers with choices and to keep the county in tune with modern, app-based solutions.
Ride at Your Own Risk
Uber riders who have concerns about the safety of the service and others like it should first understand that they ride at their own risk. Riders agree to — but rarely read — terms and conditions when they first sign up for the service.
Typically, those small-type, complex terms indicate that such app-based transportation companies don’t bear legal liability for the quality of the service or the safety of riders. Drivers are not employees but are, instead, independent contractors — leaving ridesharing companies feeling legally free to transfer any responsibility for accidents and other safety hazards to their drivers and riders themselves. However, just because Uber and Lyft allege that the drivers are independent contractors, that doesn’t mean it is true. In fact, we have successfully argued that Uber and Lyft exercise significant control over their drivers, and because of that, they are employees. In addition, the App requires drivers to use their cellphone for navigation, and to respond to driver requests. This is a dangerous practice and in direct conflict with efforts to minimize distracted driving.
If a rider is injured while being transported by an Uber driver, the driver and Uber will likely bear legal liability. Likewise, if a driver assaults a rider, they will both be held responsible.
Company Expresses Commitment to Safety
That disavowal of responsibility in the terms and conditions, however, stands at odds with Uber’s often-stated commitment to safety. On its website, the company notes that door-to-door services keep riders “safe and comfortable” until a driver arrives.
In addition, the company states that driver profiles provide riders with the license plate number, name, photo and rating of a driver. The company also encourages riders to share their expected time of arrival with friends and family members once they’ve been picked up by an Uber driver.
Uber Responsible for Drop in Drunk Driving?
Last year, Uber reported that its service was contributing to a drop in drunk driving accidents among young drivers in cities that use the service. The company asserted that when options like Uber are available for transportation, people are “empowered” to make better choices, resulting in fewer deaths. An Uber executive noted that since the company’s launch in California, vehicle accidents related to drunk driving have dropped by 60 per month among drivers under the age of 30 — for a total of 1,800 crashes possibly prevented over several years.
However, Mothers Against Drunk Driving — who served as a co-author on the Uber report — noted that no data exists to imply that Uber’s service caused the drop in drunk driving accidents. A correlation exists, but there is no proof of a cause, the group stated. Uber contends, however, that crashes related to drunk driving among people younger than 30 have seen a bigger drop in cities with Uber service than in those without.
Work with Experienced Car Accident Attorneys
Insufficient data exists at this point to predict whether Miami-Dade might see an increase or decrease in accidents because of greater numbers of inexperienced Uber drivers on the roads. But clearly, riders must take precautions when using a service like Uber, including reviewing driver profiles and letting a family member or friend know when you expect to arrive at your destination.
If you’re injured in an accident involving Uber or another ridesharing service, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, time lost from work, pain and suffering, and other harm you suffer. To consult with an experienced rideshare accident attorney, contact Kaire & Heffernan, LLC.