e-Hailing services – are drivers tested before getting behind the wheel with passengers?

One of the main reasons that e-hailing ride services have become so popular is that they offer individuals a safer alternative to drinking and driving, as the law prohibits road users from operating a vehicle or motorcycle while under the influence of intoxicating substances. While drivers for such e-hailing services are no exception to this rule, what assurances are there for passengers that they are not getting into the car with an intoxicated driver? What policies and protocols are in place in this industry to prevent such dangerous behaviour? It’s time for users of e-hailing services to start asking these questions of the service providers that they use, not just for their own safety, but for the safety of their drivers and all other road users.

Obligation to prioritise passenger safety

As road traffic legislation seeks to prohibit the consumption of alcohol entirely before getting behind the wheel, it’s becoming increasingly important for e-hailing service providers to clarify and communicate their policies with regards to how they’re ensuring passenger safety. An important aspect of passenger safety means that e-hailing service providers have an obligation to put in place strict policies concerning the consumption of alcohol and intoxicating substances by drivers while on the job. Just as important as having a strict policy, is visible enforcement, which has a two-fold effect. First, it increases public trust. If passengers feel safe, they’re more likely to use that service and recommend it to their friends. Second, it has a deterrent effect on drivers. If there is visible enforcement of anti-alcohol rules, drivers will have to obey the rules or risk placing their livelihood on the line.

Enforcing the rules

With hundreds, if not thousands of drivers on the road it might seem impossible for e-hailing service providers to ensure the sobriety of every single driver that accepts a lift request using their apps. This is not the case. There are many devices and systems that can assist with policy enforcement. There are devices that link to a vehicle’s ignition, requiring a clear breathalyser test result to start the engine. These can be configured to request that the driver perform regular breathalyser checks when safe to do so. The e-hailing apps can be linked to breathalyser test devices via Bluetooth, and as the driver opens the app, this switches on the breathalyser, and uses facial recognition and location detection to complete and verify the breath alcohol test. This can be configured to take place at the beginning of shifts and at random intervals, for example, before a driver can accept a ride request. Additionally, there needs to be consequences in place for drivers that break the rules. Whether they’re penalised, suspended from service or blacklisted entirely for multiple offenses, drivers need to know that their livelihood is at stake before consuming alcohol and accepting ride requests.

What can passengers do to ensure their own safety on a trip?

To ensure that visible enforcement measures are put in place by e-hailing service providers, users need to force these conversations with the providers that they use in order to create the demand. The public has the power to influence the outcomes of these safety concerns, simply by refusing to use a service that does not prioritise their safety and choosing one that does. Whether it’s raising the question on social media or addressing the topic directly with drivers, it’s important for passengers to take steps to ensure their own safety. After all, what is the point of a passenger leaving their car at home because they didn’t want to risk drinking and driving, when there is a risk that their safe alternative isn’t so safe? Where a passenger suspects that their driver is under the influence (whether alcohol or any other intoxicating substance), they should end the trip immediately and report the driver using the on-board safety tools provided on the app.

Proactive prevention can provide a competitive edge

Should the unthinkable happen, and an intoxicated e-hailing driver causes a road accident (even worse, a road fatality) that service provider would be held responsible in the same manner as an employer. Not only would there be legal and criminal consequences, but the public perception of such an e-hailing service provider would be irreparably damaged, particularly if the service provider has no clear, enforceable substance policy in place to prevent such incidents. With so many of their drivers on the road, representing their particular e-hailing brand, service providers are obliged to ensure the sobriety of their drivers to secure the safety of their passengers. Although it is both a legal and a moral obligation, e-hailing service providers shouldn’t see it as a burden with which they must comply. They should take it as an opportunity to reassure their users that their safety is of paramount importance, to gain the public trust and to have a competitive advantage over other service providers who might be slower in taking the same steps. Furthermore, service providers should take these steps now, proactively and preventatively, instead of in reaction to a tragedy.