Uber distraction

Potential risks for new ridesharing service coming to town

Visit uber.com to learn more.

Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about Uber, a ridesharing service that can be ordered with a simple click of your smartphone. This app, which is popular in metropolitan areas all over the world, seems to be well on its way to Nevada, despite initial setbacks fueled by the state's heavily regulated taxi industry.

While much of the information is still a bit fuzzy to those that have yet to use the system, one thing is clear: The trend that Uber represents is something people seem ready to lovingly embrace due to its simple layout, convenience and low prices.

There's one part of the service that users may take issue with, and that's the potential problems with navigation, which can ultimately affect passenger and driver safety.

When you enter an Uber car, you're paired with a civilian driver. Many of these drivers rely on some type of instruction for how to get safely to their destination—just like many other civillian drivers. The navigation options that can be used fall into three categories—stand-alone GPS, passenger directions, or app-based GPS. Each of the three pose some degree of risk to both the driver and the passenger based upon the margin of error, but one stands out as particularly risky for Nevada residents wishing to use or work for the company.

We’ve all seen the commercials, heard the radio ads, and driven by the billboards.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, texting, accessing the internet and hand-held cell phone use while driving is illegal in Nevada. According to NRS 484B.165, the provisions of this law do not prohibit the use of a voice-operated global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the vehicle. This means that drivers who use a Garmin or similar GPS system attached to the vehicle are in the clear, but those who use their cell phones for such directions can be breaking laws.

The Uber app provides GPS navigation that is located within the app, but does require some degree of interaction from the driver who uses it. The drivers are responsible for responding to a call by pushing a button, getting to the location by interacting with the voice and screen commands, and then alerting the passenger that they’ve arrived by pushing a button. Throw in the litany of construction projects that we have in the Reno area, and you have a formula for uber-distraction.

The training videos that the website provides for its new drivers shows all of this interaction taking place while the vehicle is stopped, but never directly warns the viewers of the dangers of distracted driving. And although potential drivers are put through a course before beginning, there is no real assurance that those drivers will maintain those safety standards while transporting passengers. Does Uber expect its drivers to comply with Nevada law and pull over each time they must interact with the program to effectively do their job? Of course not, but the law does.

While there are plenty of other distracting things in our vehicles (music, passengers, food or drinks, and even adjusting controls), hand-held devices are the most dangerous, and because Uber is a mobile app, one can only wonder what is next. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. That’s a scary statistic.

For most families, safety is our number one priority. We want to ensure that everyone we love stays safe, especially on the road. If Uber becomes a reality for Nevada residents, how will you feel about the potential safety hazards it may pose to everyone in and around their vehicles?