Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years. Their convenience and affordability makes them an easy choice when you’re in a pinch.
However, these services have drawn scrutiny on multiple fronts – for their displacement of taxicabs, for their model of hiring drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, and for their lack of government regulation, to name a few. A big safety issue also plagues the industry: The risk of drowsy driving.
Countless studies have shown that drowsy driving is just as dangerous – if not more so – than drunk driving. Fatigue significantly affects drivers’ mental acuity, reducing their alertness, slowing reaction times, impairing judgment and making it difficult to concentrate (or even keep their eyes open). Yet unlike drunk driving, there’s no bright-line test for determining when a driver crosses the line from mild fatigue into dangerously drowsy territory.
Rideshare drivers are particularly susceptible to drowsy driving for numerous reasons:
- They often work long shifts. The more time spent behind the wheel, the harder it becomes to stay alert and attentive. Some rideshare companies impose mandatory six-hour breaks after 12 or 14 hours of driving. But that might not be adequate, considering the average adult needs at least seven hours of quality sleep to function. By contrast, truck drivers are limited by law to 11 hours of driving (with half-hour breaks at least every 8 hours) and must then take at least 10 hours off.
- They often work nights. Many drivers have daytime jobs and drive only on nights and weekends. Research has shown that night shifts take a toll on the body, disrupting circadian rhythms and making it difficult to be well-rested. The window of time from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. – when many rideshare drivers are on duty – is also the most dangerous in terms of crashes.
- They have a financial incentive to keep going. As independent contractors, rideshare drivers aren’t salaried. They earn more by driving more. This arrangement creates a financial incentive for drivers to push their limits.
Recognizing these red flags, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently issued a position statement on the dangers of drowsy driving in the rideshare industry. The statement calls for greater awareness and safety standards to protect drivers and passengers alike.