Is Uber safer than a cab? How safe is Uber?
Uber Terms and Services.
A common question Uber customers have is: What do passengers really agree to (from a legal and technical perspective) when they download and use Uber?
From a legal perspective, an Uber ride is fundamentally different from a trip in a regular taxi.
Whenever a person downloads the Uper App; opens it on their mobile device; and requests an Uber trip, they are agreeing to a specific set of legal terms and conditions which are significantly different from that of a standard taxi company — particularly in terms of safety, danger and liability.
Liability and Safety
What do Uber passengers agree to when they download and use Uber? Various legal scholars have differing interpretations about what exactly Uber’s Terms and Conditions mean for its passengers.
Many analysts believe that Uber has crafted a broad set of legal terms and conditions that are meant (above all else) to keep the company out of legal trouble — particularly in the event of accidents, fatalities or other lawsuit-inducing incidents that may occur to drivers who use the Uber Platform.
Uber, on the other hand, argues that its terms and conditions (and, hence, its tight legal protections) must be deliberately broad — in order to have a company staffed by non-professional drivers (i.e., ‘independent contractors’).
Uber also points to its numerous security precautions — federal background checks; county and state background screenings; high liability insurance ($1 million USD), etc — as well as new initiatives (like its ‘driver selfie’ system) which aim at underscoring Uber’s reputation as an inherently safe transportation platform.
The Fine Print
A closer examination of Uber’s Terms and Services reveals some interesting clues about its responsibilities as a transportation provider.
For instance – Uber’s terms and conditions state openly that customers understand they are ‘open to chance’ when using Uber.
‘You understand, therefore, that by using the application and the service, you may be exposed to transportation that is potentially dangerous, offensive, harmful to minors, unsafe or otherwise objectionable, and that you use the application and the service at your own risk.’
Many legal experts say that Uber is attempting to emphasize, strongly, its status a ride-hailing service (or, more specifically, a peer-to-peer ride-matching system), as opposed to a traditional car service.
Under Uber’s current terms and conditions, the company — on a technical basis — has sufficient room to claim that it is simply a transportation-matching platform (and thereby avoid lawsuits associated with driver misconduct or error).
Of course, this strategy hasn’t proven impermeable to legal challenge: Uber has been successfully sued, on multiple occasions, by passengers and drivers, for damages relating to the platform’s safety.
Simultaneously, numerous legal challenges (in California, as well as New York), have edged Uber’s employees ever-closer to being classified as employees. Currently, Uber’s drivers are technically ‘independent contractors’ (not employees of a private company). Thus, Uber’s legal barriers — including its existing set of terms and conditions — could eventually be overturned legally if a judge or court of law ever ultimately decides that Uber holds such sufficient control over its drivers that they must actually be classified as employees.
One prominent example of this — i.e., the fact that Uber holds the ability to terminate a driver’s employment at will — constitutes an ability which reflects a ‘traditional’ employer-employee relationship. Arguably, this makes Uber’s ‘driver-partner’ relationship closer to that of a regular company (as opposed to a peer-to-peer marketplace staffed by independent contractors).
Uber Safety versus Taxi Safety
How does Uber’s safety record stack up against the traditional taxi industry?
Are taxis safer?
Currently, the data shows a mixed record. Uber has had a series of widely-publicized safety issues, but taxis are also frequently involved in accidents or safety incidents.
If, for instance, an accident occurs during an Uber trip, it is decidedly more difficult to seek recourse and receive monetary damages than if the accident occurred in an ordinary taxi cab.
A taxi cab customer can (in the event of an accident, injury or fatality) usually receive compensation more easily than they would in a case involving rideshare companies (i.e., without having to undertake a sophisticated legal case), because established taxi companies often have extensive insurance coverage.
Liability Insurance – Taxis and Uber
Transportation industry regulation is different across the United States, and throughout the world.
However, within the United States, taxi companies are required to hold a quarter-of-a-million dollars in liability insurance.
On the surface, this sounds less than Uber’s $1 million policy — but, it’s worth remembering that Uber’s policy is aimed (mostly) at covering accidents. The vast majority of taxi companies have larger policies (in addition to their $250,000-per-vehicle policies) which cover a wide range of events. Uber’s coverage is not meant (or designed) to cover much other than ordinary vehicular accidents. This is a critical difference — and cuts to the heart of the question of Uber vs. Taxi safety.
Conclusions – Safety in Uber and Taxis
Effectively — if you take a taxi in most major American cities, you are participating in a highly-regulated industry. As such, there are long-standing systems of accountability embedded in those industries. In the event of an accident, or other incident, passengers have more recourse (legally) than they do should an event occur in during an Uber trip.
Until Uber updates its terms and conditions — or switches the classification of its drivers to employees, instead of independent contractors (an unlikely occurance) — taxis offer a more accountable and (arguably) safer means of transportation, as opposed to the still-young and largely unregulated ridesharing industry.