Events at driver and rider matching service Uber continue to reflect adversely on the company and its cheerleaders: drivers are so skint that they are sleeping in their cars, the CJEU has suggested Uber should be regarded as a transport company, the Mail has now got its teeth firmly into the company, especially over its Ministerial contacts, and then there is the problem of how drivers interact with the Uber app when in their cars.
After much probing, it has now been established that Uber’s drivers cannot respond to the app - for instance, to confirm they have accepted a booking - without using their hands. The European Transport Safety Council’s “Making Taxis Safer” report spells it out: “Ideally taxi drivers should receive information on their next client order with the minimum amount of distraction using hands-free communication and not via a hand-held mobile phone”.
In any case, there is a straightforward solution to any dispute over whether using the Uber app distracts drivers: have it made the subject of a risk assessment. So one enterprising soul asked TfL if they had risk assessed the Uber app. “We licence the operators, not the apps … There is no obligation on us to undertake such assessments” came the reply. Those who have witnessed the recent spate of Uber accidents might not agree.
The procession of variously bent Toyota Prius models seems never ending. Still, on went TfL: “it is the duty of the driver to use any mobile/electronic device and associated app responsibly and in compliance with the Highway Code and associated road traffic legislation”. So the suggestion has been made that Uber cars (and those whose drivers use similar apps) should have an accelerometer fitted which would disable those apps.
A moving vehicle would prevent the possibility of distraction, as the accelerometer would kick in to prevent it happening. Uber would not like that, but look at all those shunts their drivers have been involved in during the recent past. It’s not just bad for the drivers, and sometimes terminal for the unfortunate Prius, it’s downright dangerous for the punters. And there is an ideal way to resolve any dispute about this issue.
That would be to undertake that risk assessment. This is covered by Section 3 of the Regulators’ Code, issued by the then Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. At the time the Uber debate was coming to the boil last year, the minister in charge was Sajid Javid. And seasoned observers of the Uber scene will need no reminding that Javid has been well and truly implicated in the Cameron and Osborne “chumocracy”.
This will lead to the suspicion that Javid might not have been a totally disinterested party to this saga. Zelo Street draws no conclusion on that point, other that his department was apparently responsible for enforcing risk assessments on the likes of the Uber app, yet it did not. One would hope that whoever is in charge of the successor department to the BIS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will have a rethink.
In the meantime, the presence of Sajid Javid in this narrative might well mean he gets another broadside from the Daily Mail. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving chap.