Real-time ridesharing has become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional taxi cabs or taking public transportation—and for good reason.  Why spend the extra money on a taxi or be subject to uncomfortable or unreliable public transportation when you can simply access an app and a personal driver arrives a few minutes later, right on your doorstep?  While some are a bit uncomfortable riding in a perfect stranger’s vehicle even if it’s through a nationally recognized company, more and more people are relying on real-time ridesharing to get them where they need to go.

Though these services are certainly a better alternative to driving while impaired or trying to navigate an unfamiliar city in a rental, what most people fail to do when accessing a ride through Uber or Lyft is read the fine print.  Have you actually read the rules, regulations and legalese before tapping ‘Request’ on your ridesharing app?  It might make your eyes cross to read through all of the terms of service before taking a Lyft or an Uber (and their terms are being regularly updated and changed), so here are a few key points.   

What you need to understand is that your driver is an independent contractor utilizing his or her own vehicle.  Unlike a cab driver or public transportation operator, rideshare drivers are not employees of a large company or municipality.  Uber and Lyft are very clear about merely being a platform to link riders with third party drivers, not an employer.  What does this mean to you as the passenger?  The screening process for drivers is probably not as rigorous as it would be for taxi cab or city workers.  Though Uber and Lyft do perform DMV and background checks on drivers, you need to realize that the driver you’re entrusting with your safety may not be properly trained or vetted to the degree you’d hope.  For example, both companies require drivers to be 21 years old with a valid U.S. driver’s license for at least one year and a fairly clean DMV record, but there is no special licensing or driver competency testing.

What if you’re involved in an accident as a rideshare passenger? Although drivers are independent contractors, Uber and Lyft provide both $1 million in liability and $1 million in uninsured/underinsured motorist polices that cover any damages or injuries from the time you start your trip until you reach your destination.  Drivers are also required to maintain their own auto policies as well and the amount of coverage varies by state. If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, insurance coverage shouldn’t be a concern.

Did you know that by using a rideshare service you are agreeing to pay for any repairs, damage or necessary cleaning of vehicles in excess of normal ‘wear and tear’? Meaning if someone in your 2:00 a.m. rideshare group gets sick in the vehicle or spills some late-night drive through food on the seats, the account that requested the ride is going to be charged a “reasonable fee” which is determined by the ride-share company after reviewing photos and information submitted by the driver. I personally know someone that had a $150 cleaning charge tacked on to their credit card, which is still substantially less than the cost of an OWI and totally worth it.  Just don’t be surprised if you end up footing the bill for bad behavior.

The newest controversy regarding Uber came with its updated Terms of Service in November of this year, in which Uber is now requesting permission to track rider location data for five minutes after reaching a destination even when not using the app. Opting out has also become more difficult since the “While Using the App” option has been removed from Apple devices and users must either give permission to be tracked “Always” or “Never.” Uber says this data will be used to improve service and enhance safety, but skeptics question the need for Uber to collect this much data and whether there is even any recourse should it collect additional data or use it for other purposes. Although much less convenient, if you’re concerned about privacy you can always disable the location services permission for the Uber app and enter pick up and drop off addresses manually.

As an attorney who sees plenty of drunk driving cases that could have been avoided had the driver simply called an Uber or Lyft, I am certainly in favor of this option.  However, I encourage everyone to gather all their facts about what it means to travel in a rideshare vehicle and be fully informed before opening up that app.  


Mark Rater is an attorney at Rater Law Office in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His primary areas of practice are personal injury, accidents, criminal, OWI/DUI and probate. Mark has extensive experience in civil and criminal jury trials and trials to the court. A graduate of Creighton University School of Law, Mark is licensed to practice in both Iowa and Nebraska and has served the residents of Council Bluffs, Omaha and the surrounding communities for over 25 years.  In his free time Mark enjoys spending time with his family, golfing and cheering on the Iowa Hawkeyes.