Contrary to conventional wisdom, one study shows the most dangerous distraction for drivers isn’t texting and driving, but the use of GPS navigation systems.
As driving jobs expand with rise of the gig economy and online shopping drivers, especially inexperienced drivers, may be relying on GPS navigation to the detriment of their safety of the job. Navigation devices can be a visual and cognitive distraction. The occupational hazard posed by GPS navigation brings up some important legal issues and hazards for professional drivers.
Employee classification is a major issue. Employees can collect workers’ compensation even if their own negligence caused the accident. In other words, the employee who got in an accident while distracted by their navigation system is still covered by workers’ compensation.
But it you are classified as an independent contractor, you are on your own for medical bills, lost income and permanent disability you are on your own if you are involved in accident where you at fault.
Unsurprisingly, gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft are fighting to classify their drivers as contractors. Gig economy companies are involved in a high-profile legislative fight in California that may have broad implication in other states and even at a federal level.
New employees are more likely to get injured. This is not good news for drivers in the high turnover ride hailing industry. A study of Uber drivers shows that nearly 2/3rds quit after six months and another study shows only 4 percent of drivers stay on for a year. The majority of drivers also drive for less than one year.
Ride hailing drivers may be particularly vulnerable to other distractions. Some ride hailing drivers will operate what amounts to a command center on their dashboard because they drive for multiple apps and monitor price information with separate phones.
Because of all those potential hazards to ride hailing drivers, I don’t think workers’ compensation attorneys can talk enough about misclassification of ride hailing drivers. But even drivers who are employees are vulnerable to risk from GPS caused auto accidents. Workers’ compensation only covers medical expenses and lost income from an injury. Workers’ compensation, at least in Nebraska, would not cover the cost of an auto insurance deductible for a driver who damaged their vehicle in a work injury where the employee was at-fault.
Many workers who do driving or delivery jobs also work at other jobs. Even if an injured driver is covered by workers’ compensation workers’ compensation disability benefits are only based on earnings from that employment.
For example, if an employee gets hurt in Nebraska and can’t work because of an injury on a second job where they made $150 per week, their temporary disability pay is limited to $100 per week even if that injury prevented them from doing another job where they made $600 per week. So even if the employees real loss of wages is $750 per week from an accident, they would be limited to $100 per week on a temporary basis. Nebraska law (Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-121(4)) assumes a 40-hour work week for the purposes of permanent disability, but employees can still be undercompensated for injuries on a second job – particularly if the second job had a relatively low hourly wage.