Does Uber Need its Own Designated Drivers?

California wants uber drivers screeningWhen rideshare companies like Uber arrived on the scene, the company was a magnet for controversy. Taxi companies in particular were fearful about losing customers. City governments didn’t like a transport system not under their control. Customers worried that the Uber drivers screening processes wasn’t working properly.

One positive angle, which Uber and other rideshare companies played up mercilessly, was that the cars were an easy alternative to drunk driving. If you were just sober enough to use a smartphone, you could get home safely.

Now even that benefit has come into question, as California has launched an attack on Uber for allegedly failing to adhere to its zero-tolerance policy for impaired driving.

Uber’s stated Safety First policy tasks drivers with “keeping to the speed limit; not texting while driving; always using a phone mount; and never driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” Moreover, Uber states that the “account of any driver found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while using the Uber app will be permanently deactivated.”

However, the California Public Utility Commission reviewed a year’s worth of passenger complaints and claims to have turned up 151 violations of the zero-tolerance policy.

The Commission accuses Uber of not following up on complaints of driver impairment. The total fines it would impose totals $1.13 million.

Uber is probably not too concerned about the fines – it lost $3.8 billion last year so $1.13 million amounts to spare change – but it should be concerned about the reputation of its drivers. Anyone who uses any form of public transport has the right to a driver who is unimpaired. California Uber drivers will not be hired if they have a DUI going back 10 years or less. In other jurisdictions, it can be 7 years.

Last year a few rideshare customers caused a kerfuffle when they observed their drivers using an ignition interlock, a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The passengers reported being nervous, but in fact, they need not have been. Because they were driving with the ignition interlock, they were demonstrably unimpaired.

Ultimately, screening of drivers will get more rigorous in this age when anyone can live-tweet a bad experience and social media can sink a company’s reputation in a matter of hours. Drunk driving is too serious a matter to leave to chance. Expect more supervision and more regulation of rideshare companies. That’s the price of being indispensable to a new generation of customers.