The popular press has recently woken up to the fact that many drivers still use their phones while at the wheel: the litany of serious and even fatal accidents caused at least partly by the distraction of a mobile is grim testament to this. But while the assembled hacks are falling over themselves to claim credit for the penalty points for this offence doubling from three to six, one perpetrator is getting a free ride.
To no surprise at all, that perpetrator is driver and rider matching service Uber, where most press coverage, in London at least, verges on the fawning, as Zelo Street noted recently. Freesheet City AM has been particularly Uber-friendly, and there has still not been even a threatening letter following the suggestion by LTDA head man Steve McNamara on BBC Newsnight that some journalists were in receipt of payments from the firm.
But I have bad news for all those Uber fans: it is clear from putting together the constraints imposed by traffic laws, and the admissions by drivers, that Uber drivers routinely break the law. I have the personal testimony of one Uber driver - who will remain anonymous - to thank for this insight into how Uber not merely gives drivers the means to break the law, but effectively encourages and even requires them to do so.
This is what the driver has said of the Uber app: “The Uber app for example has become more intrusive and distracting to drivers during driving not less. For example the so-called ‘Forward Dispatch’ feature and the ability to pause income jobs while still on a job requires multiple screen and button clicking use while driving. TfL should be paying more attention to how the driver is being asked to interact with software app features while driving”.
What that driver has described is illegal - using a mobile in that way while at the wheel is an instant fine and six points. Yet here is Uber providing its drivers with software that not only provides them with the means to break the law, but positively incites them to do so. It is not possible to perform the interaction described without handling the phone. To do that, the driver should pull over and stop the car.
But how does the driver manage that in central London? Many roads are categorised as “Red Routes”, or Urban Clearways, where private hire vehicles - like Uber cars - are allowed to stop briefly to pick up passengers, or allow them to exit the vehicle, but no longer. The law is quite specific (TfL guidelines can be seen HERE). Elsewhere in the capital, space to pull over is limited at best.
Police advice, and the law, is equally specific about use of a hand-held mobile while driving - it’s illegal. Moreover, anything that causes distraction to the driver is out of the question. So, Uber fans, riddle me this: how do all those Uber drivers manage to interact with the app without breaking the law? And if they don’t, then why should they not be subject to the same penalties as the rest of us?
And why is Uber not being prosecuted for encouraging illegal behaviour among its drivers? All this, and more, is what you will not read in City AM. I wonder why.