Uber may face fine over handling of drunk-driving complaints

California is probing Uber for allegedly failing to ditch more than 150 sloshed drivers who picked up passengers using its dial-a-ride app.

While taxi and limousine drivers in California must be tested for a alcohol and drugs, drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft do not.

In 151 cases between August 12, 2014 and August 31, 2015, Uber did not suspend or investigate drivers accused of DUI, according to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates ride-hailing companies. The regulators also found conflicting data which shows that the drivers were logged on, marked as available for hours even when they had been suspended from Uber's platform. These types of companies generally are required to suspend suspect drivers when a complaint is lodged pending the outcome of an internal investigation. "That driver provided one ride during the first hour, and subsequently responded to four ride requests and provided two additional rides", the commission said.

Failure to suspend a driver promptly after receiving a zero-tolerance complaint is a serious violation of the [ride-hailing] rules because it places passengers and the public at immediate risk.
In at least 25 instances, the agency did not suspend or investigate drivers that had accrued three or more complaints.

That's a flawed approach, the commission claims, as it's open to human error, and is contrary to CPUC's safety policy requiring prompt suspension as soon as a zero-tolerance complaint is filed.

An administrative law judge would examine those complaints and the proposed penalty and conduct further proceedings before recommending the case to the five-member commission itself.

"In many instances, CPED found no evidence that (Uber) followed up in any way with zero tolerance complaints several hours or even one full day after passengers filed such complaints", the complaint said.

According to the commission's own findings, the company received 2,047 zero-tolerance complaints statewide against its UberX and UberPool drivers during the year in question, and the company dismissed drivers in 574 of those cases. Uber told the Gate it's reviewing the order and assessing potential next steps.

"We have zero tolerance for any impaired driving as outlined in our Community Guidelines", an Uber spokesperson said late Thursday in an emailed statement.

  • Joey Payne