Since entering Baltimore, the ridesharing company Uber has forced the law to catch up to novel ways to get around. Now that they have been in the area for a few years, laws and regulations have largely settled around the concept of ride-sharing in ways that are aimed to protect both ride-sharing passengers and existing taxi companies, while still letting interested Uber drivers make some side money in their free time.
Understanding some of the more important ridesharing policies that impact how Uber works, though, can be beneficial, especially if you are worried about getting hurt while in an Uber vehicle.
The Big Picture: How Uber Works
Uber and other ridesharing companies pushed the envelope in the transportation world by creating a smartphone app that connected people who wanted a lift somewhere with other people who had space in their car. If you ask ride-sharing companies like Uber, that is all they do: They are a software company that provides the platform that connects drivers with potential passengers.
This is different from how traditional taxi companies work because, comparatively speaking, Uber has very little control over who drives their vehicles. Additionally, if something goes wrong in an Uber, what happens next is hardly going to be uniform from one situation to the next.
The law in Baltimore was disturbed by how innocent passengers – people who have paid a driver to get them from Point A to Point B, and who therefore have a legal expectation that their safety be ensured – could be put in danger by inept drivers and could be out of luck if they get hurt. Meanwhile, taxi companies lobbied heavily to keep Uber either out of Baltimore, or so hamstrung that it could not undercut their fares.
The results of these competing interests are the ridesharing policies of Baltimore. Some of them are mandated by law. Others are Uber's policies, which have come about both through the company's own interest in minimizing its liabilities and through negotiations with local and state lawmakers over whether Uber would be allowed to operate in the area.
Uber does not let just any vehicle be used for picking up and driving a passenger. Drivers have to abide by Uber's policies regarding the car they drive. To pick up passengers on the Uber app, at all, the vehicle has to:
- Be less than 12 years old
- Pass state inspection
- Be free from commercial branding or other markings
- Have four doors
- Have no cosmetic damage
- Have air conditioning and heat in working order, as well as working windows
- Have a new car title – no rebuilt or salvage titles
Drivers who want to pick up passengers with Uber Black, for luxury riders, have to satisfy extra requirements with their vehicles.
One of the policies that has proven the most contentious for Uber is in which drivers are allowed to transport passengers through the app. Taxi companies were especially vigorous in attacking Uber for their track record of letting just about anyone drive for them, while taxi companies had to conduct extensive screening for their drivers.
In Baltimore, Uber drivers must:
- Be 21 or over
- Have three years of driving experience
- Pass a background check
- Have an in-state driver's license, registration, and car insurance
Additionally, Uber drivers need to have a clean driving record to use the app to carry passengers. Under Uber's policies, drivers cannot have any of the following violations in the last seven years:
- Any criminal history
- Driving under the influence (DUI) incident
- Drug-related offense
- Reckless driving
- Fatal accidents
- Driving without a license or with a suspended license
- Driving without insurance
Uber also requires drivers to report incidents that could violate this policy within three days. However, Uber has shown a propensity for not enforcing this requirement and drivers have a vested interest in reporting as little as possible, putting riders at risk.
Policies for Treatment of Passengers
Uber has a fairly strict policy about how its drivers are allowed to treat their passengers. There are policies in place that forbid drivers from discriminating against passengers based on sex, race, and disability, among others. Uber claims that drivers caught discriminating against someone – including by refusing to offer a ride – can be kicked off the Uber platform.
However, Uber has shown that it will do little to enforce these policies, and that it prefers to just let drivers' rating reflect their poor treatment of passengers. While this reduces the number of passengers these problematic drivers deal with, it does not eliminate the risk that it puts on future passengers.
Another crucial aspect of Uber's policies is how it insures drivers in the event of a crash. Uber makes a bold claim that it provides $1 million in coverage for accidents. However, there are so many caveats and exceptions to their coverage that it seems to rarely apply, leaving injured and innocent victims out of luck if the negligent Uber driver is unable to cover the costs of the accident – which is nearly always the case in all but the most trivial crashes.
Increasingly, though, Uber drivers have had the ability to purchase additional insurance policies for their Uber gig. This often provides another avenue of recovery for injured victims when Uber finds a way to escape liability.
Gilman & Bedigian: Representing Victims of Uber's Services in Baltimore
There is little doubt that Uber has changed the face of public transit and provided an important opportunity for people who want to make some extra money and have a car that can do it. However, as with many innovative business ventures, there have been serious downsides that have left lots of innocent victims in need of compensation for their losses and with nowhere to turn.
The personal injury lawyers at the Baltimore law office of Gilman & Bedigian strive to represent victims of Uber's ridesharing policies in the city and surrounding area. If you have been hit by an Uber driver or hurt while in an Uber vehicle, contact us online.