Uber puts the brakes on drowsy drivers in the US

Sleepy drivers cause 6,000 fatal crashes a year in the United States. Thanks to legal pressure from the UK’s Parliament, Uber is updating its app to prevent US-based drivers from putting themselves, passengers and others on the road in danger by working overtime. 

As reported by The Washington Post, the ride-sharing service will not allow US drivers to be on duty for longer than 12 hours. After that, the app shuts down automatically and drivers will be forced to take a six-hour break before hopping back behind the wheel.

By contrast, Uber gave UK-based drivers a 10-hour limit when it rolled out changes last month, reports Engadget. After losing its license to operate in London last year, Uber regained its license temporarily on appeal, after Uber’s Head of Policy Andrew Byrne told Parliament that it would regulate drivers’ hours “to help enhance driver and passenger safety.”

Sachin Kansal, Uber’s Director of Product Management, explained to The Post how the app will use GPS tracking to determine whether a driver is actively driving, idling at a light (which still counts against their quota) or taking an extended break. 

Uber’s new restrictions sit near the limits of other taxi and ride-sharing services. New York City taxi drivers can only drive 10 hours every 24 hours, while Lyft lets its drivers cruise for 14 hours before mandating a six-hour break.

Regulated rest

Uber has known about the problem of driver fatigue for some time, but seemingly hasn’t taken actions to prevent it unless facing pressure from consumers or governments. 

After the New York Post quoted several Uber drivers as saying they would work 19-hour shifts to make a living wage, Uber instituted a 12-hour shift/ 6-hour break policy for its NYC drivers in 2016—but didn’t make the policy nationwide until today.

Meanwhile, after the Transport for London (TFL) government agency denied Uber its license renewal, the company indicated its willingness to make concessions. Limiting hours was likely one of them.

Uber likely is pleased that it's still in the driver’s seat when it comes to regulation. In the European Union, the company was officially labelled a “taxi service” by the courts late last year, meaning the company could no longer self-regulate its drivers outside of existing regulations. 

This is precisely what Uber would like to avoid in US by “willingly” limiting driver hours—at least until its self-driving fleet of cars officially launches. 

One potentially unsolvable problem of Uber’s new policy: because the company doesn’t technically “employ” its drivers, it can’t regulate what they do outside of work. Engadget discovered statistics from the CEO of driver assistant app SherpaShare that “three-fourths of drivers drive for at least 2 rideshare services.” So a driver at the end of a 12-hour Uber shift could switch over to Lyft and stay on the road for another 14 hours.

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Michael Hicks

Michael Hicks began his freelance writing career with TechRadar in 2016, covering emerging tech like VR and self-driving cars. Nowadays, he works as a staff editor for Android Central, but still writes occasional TR reviews, how-tos and explainers on phones, tablets, smart home devices, and other tech.