The economy experienced a significant blow amid the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a tremendous loss of business and employment opportunities. As a result, people stopped using Lyft and Uber for transportation, causing hardship for many rideshare drivers and forcing them to apply for unemployment. As things gradually started to pick back up, rideshare drivers faced new issues brought on by the pandemic. While struggling to survive during these unprecedented times, rideshare drivers deal with serious health concerns that have exacerbated the driver safety issue.
Rideshare drivers undoubtedly are essential. They provide a service that helps make it possible to conduct business and other activities. Healthcare workers, grocery store employees, educators, students, and others depend on them to get around.
During a group interview, a former rideshare driver said that her driving experience was favorable most of the time. At first, she saw it as a decent way to supplement her income. She mentioned that rideshare drivers must practice safe driving at all times while subjecting themselves to potentially dangerous situations regularly. As a woman, she had occasional concerns about driving late into the night and was more aware during late hours, especially if she had a male passenger. If she had a gut feeling that a particular ride would jeopardize her safety, she would cancel it, but that was rare. Being a safe driver not only involves driving defensively, obeying traffic laws, and being alert. Passengers also play a significant role in driver safety. They should avoid distracting behavior or actions that would interfere with safe driving and realize that carelessness puts others at risk. The former driver’s passengers were usually kind and engaged in great conversations. However, there were a few incidents where passengers were disrespectful or intoxicated and made her feel uncomfortable. She was always able to maintain control of the situation and refused to tolerate threatening behavior.
The former rideshare driver recalled an experience where a passenger threw a fit after passing an exit. The passenger rudely asked, “Do you know the city?” The driver responded, “I’m following the GPS.” After the insults continued, the driver exited the expressway and pulled over. “I’m going to drop you off right here. You can call another Lyft,” said the driver to the rude, entitled, and audacious passenger before kicking her out and reporting her to Lyft. The former driver grew weary due to situations like this and other factors. She decided that long hours, potential safety risks, and exhaustion were not worth it monetarily. With the pandemic on the rise, she felt it was best to discontinue working as a rideshare driver. Her family fully supported her decision. They had been skeptical about allowing her to come around due to her exposure to the public.
Another interviewee stated that being a rideshare driver can be lucrative if you know how to work the system. His main concern is whether the opportunity is worth the health risks. Even with safety protocols in place, his family is paranoid about the possibility of his contracting the virus from a passenger through coughing, sneezing, or breathing and bringing it home. Passengers should keep in mind that drivers depend on them to use good judgment and avoid riding when they do not feel well.
Being a rideshare driver requires taking control of all aspects of health and safety. Driving long hours, depriving oneself of sleep, having irregular eating habits, and dealing with life’s challenges in between driving can take a toll on one’s overall well-being. On top of that, rideshare driving may not be ideal if you have concerns about stress. Add the pandemic to the mix, and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
Rideshare companies have taken specific measures to ensure the safety of their drivers, including the following:
- Require mandatory safety education.
- Offer an easily accessible emergency system with around-the-clock support.
- Share your location with family and friends.
- Require passengers as well as drivers to educate themselves on health safety and follow the guidelines (wear masks, etc.)
- Flag passengers and drivers who violate the rules set for by rideshare companies.
Still, drivers feel that rideshare companies need to do more to put them at ease. Demands include performing an extensive background check on all riders, stepping up efforts to provide protection, enforcing penalties for safety violations, protecting drivers against false passenger claims, requiring drivers to have cameras, and offering sick and hazard pay.
Here are some safety tips that rideshare drivers should always keep in mind:
- Make the same commitment to health safety as you do to wearing a seatbelt and demand that passengers do the same. (No mask, no ride. Clean regularly. Stay distant.)
- Verify the rider’s information before they enter the car.
- Stay focused while driving.
- Know when it is time to stop and get some rest.
- Be mindful of where and when you pick up passengers.
- Follow your instincts if something does not feel right.
- Mount your phone for easy access.
- Use a camera to record activity.
- Inspect your car regularly.
There is no question that rideshare drivers should always be diligent about their safety. Driver safety involves being aware of your surroundings, taking personal steps for a safe driving experience, demanding better safety measures from rideshare companies, and holding riders accountable. Driver safety is the responsibility of everyone involved.
Donna Montgomery is a Community Affairs/Arts Writer in Chicago. Find her on social media @GoldenLadyWrites.