At 8 pm on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, the driver of an Uber car – a contractor who was signed into the company’s app and was apparently “waiting to receive and accept a ride request” - struck and killed 6-year-old Sofia Liu, and injured her mother and little brother. The family has filed a wrongful death suit against Uber and as a result, we are learning all kinds of things about safety, insurance and regulation problems among “the booming ride-services industry companies.”
For those who have no idea what we are talking about, Uber is a company with a cellphone app. Once you join and are in a city covered by Uber (there are more than 50 now), you can request a ride from wherever you are and an Uber driver will show up. Your credit card, already in Uber’s system, takes care of payment. The company takes a cut from every ride.
According to Sophia’s family attorney Chris Dolan, “[T]he phone-based interface that drivers use to find fares” contributed to this tragedy and violates California’s law:
Because drivers must interact with the Uber app to locate and pick up riders, the app violates a California law that seeks to cut down on distracted driving, the suit says. Uber drivers "must respond quickly to a user request for service by physically interfacing with the app, thereby leading to distraction," in violation of the state vehicle code prohibiting distracted driving.…
An Uber driver must tap a screen at least once to accept a fare. Dolan says that to be safer, they should make the technology hands-free.
And then there’s the insurance issue. In California, Uber and similar companies must carry “commercial liability insurance, regardless of whether the driver is personally insured. The law mandates a minimum $1 million of coverage per incident.” But in this case, Uber is “deny[ing] insurance protection that would have covered the family and the driver,” claiming it has no responsibility since no passenger was in the car when it struck Sophia and her family. (See more on the insurance issues here.) Seems outrageous.
Of course, Uber drivers aren’t the only commercial drivers causing havoc on our city streets lately. In New York City, writes Fox News:
A nationally renowned oncologist watched in anguish as his 9-year-old son was fatally hit by a cab just steps from their Upper West Side apartment Friday night.
The dad and boy were crossing the street at West End Avenue and 97th Street shortly before 9 p.m. — about a half hour after a 73-year-old man was killed in a separate accident two blocks away.
That man was struck and dragged by a private tour bus on Broadway and West 96th Street.
The NY Daily News reports,
A spate of fatal accidents on New York City streets — including the tragic death of a 9-year-old boy mowed down Friday by a taxi — is putting 2014 on pace to be one of the deadliest for pedestrians in the last four years. Cooper Stock was walking across an Upper West Side street holding his father’s hand when he was run over by a yellow cab. …
Koffi Komlani, the driver of the cab …was merely issued a summons for failure to yield, cops said. Komlani had a probationary license and had been driving since July, a Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesman said.
Yet the NYPD seems to be blaming pedestrians like Cooper for these accidents. Can’t see how that’s helpful.