Need a ride home after a night of partying and drinking? On busy streets filled with restaurants and bars, streets like Washington, Montrose and Main Street downtown, you’ll have better luck catching a Metro bus than flagging down a cab. For a city as lively as Houston, isn’t it strange that its heavily regulated cab industry is so woefully lacking when it comes to providing a service so many people need: a safe way to get home after having a few beers (or more) with friends. Is it any wonder that the ride-sharing service Uber has become the transportation of choice among the city’s tech-savvy population?
What is Uber?
Uber is an on-demand car service that allows you to request private drivers using its smartphone app. Once you create an account, you use the app to request a ride by providing your pick up location and destination, and choosing one of four ride options, UberBLACK being the most expensive, followed by UberSUV (four riders or more), UberTaxi, and UberX. Uber uses GPS and Wi-Fi to determine your pickup location, and bills your credit card automatically for the trip. The fares are typically lower than a cab, although they increase or “surge” during peak hours. (Which are usually the hours when people are leaving bars and requesting a ride home!) However, you can get a fee estimate in advance of your trip before you book it and get charged.
Uber’s user-friendly app and consistent service quickly made it a go-to choice for many Houstonians. Uber also seems to have contributed to a significant drop in DWI arrests in Houston. In 2013, the number of DWI arrests in Houston was 6,205. Interestingly, 18 months after the arrival of Uber in 2014, the number of DWI arrests dropped to 5,182, a 16.5 percent reduction. While it remains to be seen if those numbers continue to drop, many believe the sharing economy is helping to keep the roads a little safer.
Is Uber Safe?
In Houston, to pick up riders within the city limits, Uber drivers must have a Transportation Network Company (TNC) license. The process of getting a TNC license includes a fingerprinting background check, a drug test and physical, and a warrant check. The screening process includes a driving and criminal history check covering county, federal and multi-state databases. Houston is one of the few Uber markets where drivers must undergo fingerprinting. (Interestingly, it was the fingerprinting requirement that prompted Lyft, another ride-sharing service, to discontinue business in Houston.)
Sadly, there has been at least one high profile case of a Houston Uber driver who was somehow able to drive without a TNC license, and went on to be charged with sexually assaulting a female passenger. The company has been investigated by lawmakers in several states for failing to conduct adequate background checks, and is currently being sued by two San Francisco women who allege they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers.
Texas state lawmakers are watching Uber closely, even as the company ramps up its efforts to make sure each driver is thoroughly screened for a criminal record that would prevent them from operating a vehicle-for-hire. Both Uber and Lyft have unsuccessfully lobbied for a statewide licensing system for vehicle-for-hire apps, and are likely to continue those efforts in 2017.
Liability and the Sharing Economy
So supposing you do the responsible thing and call for Uber after a night of drinking, and a drunk driver hits you on your way home? The irony would not be lost on us, but more importantly, being lawyers, we would want to know if Uber carries any insurance to cover this or any other type of accident.
The answer is yes. Just like a taxi or limo company, all UberBLACK, UberSUV and UberTaxi rides are provided by commercially licensed and insured partners and drivers, according to local and state requirements. Just like any other driver on the road, UberX drivers must have their own personal auto insurance. Uber also provides coverage for UberX drivers en route and on trip that includes “one million of uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage per incident.” This covers all UberX occupants in the event of a scenario like we described or a hit and run. Additional driver liability coverage is detailed on the Uber website.
Houston DWI Defense
Although we at Thiessen Law Firm stand firm when it comes to defending the rights of motorists who are unjustly accused of driving while intoxicated, we encourage drivers to exercise common sense when it comes to drinking and driving. The important thing is to be safe out there, and to consider the safety of others, however you decide to get home.
If you or a family member, friend or loved one has been arrested and charged with DWI, please contact Thiessen Law Firm as soon as possible. Attorney Mark Thiessen is one of the top DWI defense lawyers in Houston, and he and his team are committed to justice and fighting for the rights of the accused. For a free consultation, call us at (713) 864-9000 or use our online form.