By Melissa Dobstaff

As legislators are taking serious notice of the distracted driving epidemic and the role that cell phone use plays in making our roads more dangerous than ever before, one area that appears to fall through the cracks involves Uber.  As a ride sharing service, Uber designed an app that allows customers to connect with nearby drivers in order to hail a ride.  The fact that Uber is a highly successful service stems from the ease with which people can use their phones to call a car, and through which drivers can connect and navigate to a designated destination.  With every state having implemented some form of a cellular phone ban for motorists, the problem rising to the surface concerns how exactly Uber drivers are complying with the laws in effect.  

When we stop to consider the ban in effect in New York State, which is a ban on handheld cellular use and texting by all drivers, it might be time to examine how Uber drivers use their phones in the course of business.  How are these laws being following by the drivers who need to respond almost instantaneously to their smartphones in order to earn a paycheck?  Not only are Uber drivers expected to take their eyes off the road in order to accept a ride, the fact that they have to manually use their phones behind the wheel appears to be in contrast with a handheld or ban.  

In order to accept a ride, an Uber driver only has fifteen seconds to accept the fare.  In those fifteen seconds a driver may typically look at their phone to determine where the rider is and whether or not they want to accept, all while navigating through traffic.  The cellular phone bans in place are working to make drivers put their phones away as a means of eliminating the visual distraction of looking at the phone as well as the manual distraction of pressing buttons. An Uber driver’s use of their cellular device appears to be the exact opposite of what legislators are aiming to change.  The cell phone is a crucial element in the success that Uber has achieved thus far.  In order to conduct any transaction, a cellular device is used, creating a distraction and increasing the potential for danger.  

Moving forward, legislators might need to consider implementing regulations on how Uber is able to use cellular technology, especially if legislators are able to implement a complete cell phone ban for all motorists in the future.  While currently not a single state has yet to implement a complete ban on cellular use behind the wheel, if such a ban can be implemented, then the way in which Uber conducts its business may need to change unless legislators are planning to make exceptions for ridesharing services.   

The distracted driving epidemic is a cause for major concern, which is why legislators across the country have enacted laws to prevent cellular phone use by motorists.  Despite the increase in awareness of the dangers associated with distracted driving, the laws enacted thus far have yet to make a discernable impact on the number of distracted driving accidents occurring throughout the country.  It is likely that we will see legislators implement the use of technology to curb cellular distractions or enact a complete ban, at which point Uber and similar ridesharing services will need to change the manner in which they do business.  Without cell phones Uber simply would not be the efficient and cost effective service we have come to know, so as these laws evolve it will be interesting to see exactly how Uber adapts in order to operate in accordance with the law.  


Student Bio: Melissa Dobstaff is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology.  She is currently a 2L at Suffolk University Law School.  She holds a B.S. in International Business Management with a minor in Spanish from Youngstown State University and a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies from Kent State University.  Melissa is the Vice President of the Business Law Association for the 2016-17 academic year.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.

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