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Do companies like Uber increase risk of car accidents?

Many Hawaii readers may be familiar with Uber, a company that matches individuals who need a ride with private drivers who are willing to use their personal vehicles as a taxi. The concept has taken off in recent years, and Uber drivers can be found in virtually every major city within the nation, in addition to metropolitan areas throughout the world. While Uber and its competitors are enjoying a great deal of success in the transportation market, many fear that the scheduling aspects of these companies can sharply increase the risk of car accidents.

For example, when a customer contacts Uber looking for a ride, a message is sent out to drivers who are online and active. Those drivers are only given 15 seconds to respond to a text message stating the passenger's location and destination. This means that, in the span of just a few seconds, drivers have to figure out how far away the potential fare is, and whether the assignment is worth the effort. This would be a challenge for a driver sitting behind a desk. For one who is navigating traffic when that message comes in, it is even more difficult.

Competitor companies have similar policies; the taxi service Flywheel sends out blast messages for each potential fare. The first driver to respond gets the assignment, placing even more pressure on drivers to be immediately responsive and overly focused on their phones. Because many drivers are using these services to make a living, the pressure to respond immediately to incoming text messages or alerts is high. For the passengers in the back of these vehicles, as well as other drivers sharing the roadways, this can lead to a hazardous scenario.

Lawmakers are trying to determine how companies such as Uber and Flywheel fit into the scheme of the transportation industry as a whole. As of yet, however, there are few regulations guiding how these companies communicate with their drivers. It is important for Hawaii residents to understand that the drivers around them could be distracted by a number of things within their environment, including incoming taxi assignments. As technology continues to influence our lives, distracted driving will continue to increase the risk of car accidents.

Source: staradvertiser.com, "Distracted driving and the risks of ride-hailing services like Uber", Dec. 21, 2014

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