Fatigue a major risk in ridesharing industry

(Reuters Health) - Fatigue and sleepiness are inherent safety risks in the ridesharing industry today, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine warns.

A taxi driver uses his cell phone during a ride in Lima, Peru July 4 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

In a new position paper, the AASM calls on ridesharing companies, government officials, medical professionals and law enforcement officers to address drivers’ fatigue as a public safety risk.

“Fatigued driving is common . . . and this is a real opportunity to work together to address this real safety risk,” said Dr. Indira Gurubhagavatula of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who coauthor the group’s statement.

Gurubhagavatula and colleagues on the AASM board of directors published the statement in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine to call attention to the growing popularity of ridesharing apps and the regulatory and safety issues that haven’t yet been addressed.

Many drivers who work in the industry, for instance, often work other jobs and drive during their “off” time, which can leave few hours for sleep, the authors point out.

Plus, these drivers typically aren’t screened for medical problems that reduce alertness, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Some ridesharing companies now require rest periods after extended driving shifts, but it can be difficult to enforce and doesn’t sufficiently address driver safety, Gurubhagavatula said.

Between 2005 and 2009, more than 83,000 crashes were related to drowsy driving, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. In addition, about 20 percent of crashes point to driver fatigue as a factor, according to the AAA Foundation.

“As drivers accrue hours of sleep deprivation, their crash risk escalates,” said Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA. “Missing two hours of sleep can leave drivers as impaired as drunk driving.”

AAA launched a study this year to investigate the “gig economy” (in which temporary, short-term work assignments are common) and safety, including the ridesharing industry.

Drivers who feel drowsy should find a safe place to park and take a 20-minute nap, Nelson said.

“Naps aren’t just for babies,” he told Reuters Health by phone. “That 20 minutes could save your life.”

Ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft have published safety recommendations for drivers on their websites and are working with researchers at the National Sleep Foundation and elsewhere to research drowsy driving behaviors.

“Fatigue is something that impacts everyone, and if we’re going to make roads safer for all travelers and get to the goal of zero road deaths, we all have a role to play,” Dr. Nadia Anderson, manager of public policy, road and traffic safety for Uber, told Reuters Health by email.

The Uber app, for instance, requires drivers to take a six-hour break for every 12 hours of driving time. Similarly, the Lyft app requires a six-hour break for every 14 hours the app is in “driver” mode.

“We also send notifications to drivers reminding them about the importance of getting enough rest and investigate any reports of fatigued or unsafe driving and take appropriate actions, which can include deactivation from the platform,” Kate Margolis, a corporate communications lead for Lyft, told Reuters Health by email.

The AASM would like to see regulations that mandate rest periods, limit hours of service and encourage drivers with sleep disorders to receive treatment.

“Many of these ridesharing drivers are struggling to make ends meet and do this because of economic realities,” Gurubhagavatula said. “We need to create a safe environment where they can make a living without putting their lives at risk.”

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, online March 30, 2018.