COVID-19 has had far-ranging effects on the daily lives of most Americans. The way we shop, socialize and travel has changed. Although many people work from home now, those who do not often choose rideshare services to reach their workplace. This is a problem since close contact with others in small spaces, such as a motor vehicle, provides a setting where the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus is greatest. Uber and Lyft and their drivers are in the frontlines of this problem. Let’s look at some of the Lyft and Uber safety issues, the companies and their drivers and patrons face and how the problems are being addressed.
Uber Driver Safety During the Pandemic
For many Lyft and Uber drivers, the choice to go to work can be a hard one. The workers rely on their jobs to care for their families. Although the companies have taken steps to help if they become ill, many drivers are frightened of performing the work they need to do. Rideshare safety features, such as Uber and Lyft safety policy rules, have been implemented to protect both drivers and riders.
Drivers are particularly vulnerable since they are in contact with multiple people in a confined space. That is why using face masks can make a big difference for the driver. It also protects his or her passenger if the driver has a nonsymptomatic case of COVID-19 or is in the early stages of the infection.
In early April, according to the Uber safety center, the company began shipping disinfectants and masks to drivers. The shipments are first being sent to areas where there is an abundance of cases such as New York City, followed by other hard-hit cities. Both drivers and delivery people will receive supplies as they are made available.
Rideshare Safety Tips for Passengers and Drivers
Rideshare drivers need to protect themselves and their passengers. Some rideshare safety tips for drivers who are trying to protect passengers are as follows:
- Keep your motor vehicle clean: This benefits both the rider and the driver. It is a good idea to wipe down the interior of the vehicle between passengers. Many disinfectants such as Lysol or Purell Multi-Surface Spray are usable on both cloth and other fabrics. It is always a good idea to test the disinfectant first on an out-of-the-way area of the interior of the car to make sure the material is not damaged.
- Use of an Uber safety partition between the front and back seats: Erecting a safety partition can block virus particles. However, it is important to regularly spray the partition with a disinfectant to kill virus particles. For instance, if the rider disperses virus droplets by talking or coughing, the partition itself will be a source of infection. Another passenger can enter the vehicle and touch the partition and then touch their face, exposing themselves to COVID-19.
- Wear gloves, mask and safety glasses when cleaning the vehicle. Discard the gloves when finished. The driver should not touch their face while disinfecting the vehicle. Also, clean the window buttons, door handles, seat adjusters and seat belts as well as armrests.
- Personal hygiene: Both Uber and Lyft’s safety policy is recommending that drivers wash their hands as often as possible. Carry a hand sanitizer. Be sure to buy an alcohol-based one. To be effective at killing germs, the hand sanitizer should have an alcohol concentration of between 60-95 percent.
- Rented vehicles: Many rideshare drivers rent their vehicles. They need to clean the vehicle when they first pick it up. Aside from seats, buttons, including those that power the radio, all levers, seat rests, seatbelts, and steering wheel and switches should be cleaned. A driver should think of everything a previous driver touched and clean it, including the key or fob. Isopropyl alcohol (70 percent) is safe on most surfaces including chrome used for door handles to plastic and imitation leather, according to Yanfeng, the largest supplier of automotive parts. Do not use hydrogen peroxide or bleach. Special care is needed on leather surfaces.
COVID-19 Uber Safety Report
Lawsuits are being filed against Uber and Lyft for not paying sick pay to infected drivers. The claims say that drivers may continue to work despite feeling ill because of economic pressures. At the end of March, Uber said it would pay sick leave if the following conditions have been met:
- The driver was quarantined by a health agency.
- The driver was diagnosed with COVID-19 and presents documentation.
- The driver was not on the rideshare app for 14 days due to removal by a healthcare agency.
Lyft also said it would provide financial assistance to drivers who were placed into self-isolation by a health care agency or properly diagnosed with COVID-19.
Is It Safe to Use Rideshare Services Right Now?
There is no answer to this question. Aside from staying away from those infected with COVID-19, anything can be risky. Compared to buses or subway or trains, where many people are crowded together, using an Uber or Lyft rideshare is likely to present a smaller risk. For instance, there is only one person in the vehicle other than the rider, and the chance that they are infected is smaller than when larger numbers of people are involved. However, there is still risk. This risk is mitigated by the driver’s ability to clean the vehicle between riders.
Percentage of People Who Drive for and Use Rideshares in Los Angeles
There are approximately 100,000 rideshare drivers in Los Angeles. Uber and Lyft drivers provide more than 75 percent of all pickups at LAX. The same number of usage statistics is applicable downtown, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. When dealing with coronavirus, the numbers give a picture of the enormity of the problem. However, residents rely on both rideshare companies to get around. Add in Uber delivery services, and it is clear how much Los Angeles residents rely on such rideshares to survive.
Rideshare Safety Statistics in the Past
In the years after 2009, when Uber began to provide rideshare services, there were assault issues linked to some drivers. The companies were accused of negligently hiring drivers and placing riders, predominantly women, in harm’s way.
Uber admitted to receiving over 6,000 lawsuits for sexual assault in 2017 and 2018 alone. The complaints ranged from unwanted advances to rape. Also, 19 individuals died due to an assault during or soon after using Uber. The company lamented the prominence of sexual assault, saying that there will always be this threat.
Background checks were incomplete, according to personal injury lawsuits, and the drivers involved in these lawsuits were allowed to continue driving. Since this time, Uber safety tips for riders have lessened the number of assaults and given riders the ability to protect themselves.
COVID-19 began sweeping the globe in December 2019. By April 21, 2020, there were more than 845,000 cases in the United States and over 2,587,000 worldwide. (All statistics listed are based on the numbers reported by health organizations as of this date.) In the United States, there have been 47,486 deaths. The total number of cases in California, according to the Los Angeles Times, is listed as 37,343 with 1,419 deaths. The total number of cases in Los Angeles County is recorded as 39,254 with 1,562 deaths as of April 21, 2020.
Implementation of Social Distancing
Most states have instituted social distancing and recommended the use of protective equipment to keep the disease from spreading. Stay-at-home orders are mandatory in California as of the time of this report, and many areas have demanded that residents don masks when they leave their homes. Schools, restaurants, gyms and a host of nonessential businesses are closed.
As stay-at-home orders are implemented, the hope is that the number of new cases and deaths will decrease. Drug companies and scientists worldwide are working feverishly to find effective drugs and vaccines to fend off this global scourge.
Direct Spread of COVID-19
COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with their counterparts in other countries, are studying the virus to determine how it is spread. Experts believe that the majority of cases are spread from one person to another by the release of virus particles into the air. Sneezing, coughing, breathing and speaking are the paths most likely to put individuals at risk if they are standing or sitting near someone with COVID-19. As of the date of this article, the CDC and other government sources recommend the use of face masks to prevent infection.
Distance and the Spread of COVID-19
There is some debate about the quantitative length of the distance beyond which COVID-19 cannot be spread. Most estimates say that spread can occur if people are closer than six feet. However, newer data suggests that the space between individuals needs to be at least 13 feet if they are to remain safe.
A Belgian/Dutch study examined how the area of contagion a runner creates behind them, referred to as a slipstream, could extend 15 meters or 49 feet. If another runner enters the slipstream, they could breathe in the viral particles and be infected by them.
Contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs and car seats, are another way COVID-19 is transmitted. This occurs in several different ways. If the infected person sneezes or coughs or even speaks, droplets containing the virus may fall onto such surfaces, contaminating them. If no other surfaces are present and capable of catching the droplets, they may sink to the floor or ground, which is then contaminated.
If a person walks through an area, whether indoors or outdoors, where an infected person sneezed or coughed, their shoes are contaminated and could contaminate the floor of a room or a car. Once a surface is contaminated, it raises the risk of spreading the virus. It is necessary to thoroughly clean the surfaces with a disinfectant approved to kill COVID-19 before the area could be considered safe.
How Long Does COVID-19 Persist on Surfaces?
COVID-19 persists on surfaces. The type of surface determines the length of time the virus remains:
- Cardboard: The virus persists on cardboard for 24 hours.
- Copper: Copper is porous and the virus can last for up to four hours.
- Cloth: Clothes can retain the virus for hours or days. Higher times are due to plastic buttons or zippers that will hold COVID-19 longer.
- Plastic: Plastic surfaces can harbor the virus for up to 72 hours.
Using a Mask
Though directions about whether to wear a face mask have changed, it is now recommended that people in Los Angeles wear face masks when they leave their home to go to the grocery market or another essential business. If a resident needs to use Uber or Lyft, the same directive would be in effect. The rideshare companies are urging drivers to wear face masks and are now sending supplies to drivers in highly contaminated areas. Also, they are suggesting that riders/users use the same protection. This is the best way to prevent becoming infected when using rideshare services.
Other Helpful Resources
- What to Do After a Lyft or Uber Accident
- Get Your Lyft or Uber Accident Case Reviewed Before a Lawsuit
We encourage all passengers and drivers to take every precaution available during this challenging time to minimize unnecessary risks and put safety as a top priority.
Common Uber and Lyft Covid-19 FAQ’s
The most important steps include keeping the vehicle exceptionally clean, using a safety partition between the front and back seats, wearing gloves, mask and safety glasses when cleaning the vehicle and practicing strong personal hygiene with hand sanitizers and hand washing.
More than 75 Percent of Uber and Lyft pickups are performed by drivers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and within downtown LA.
Top suppliers of automotive parts, including Yanfeng, note that Isopropyl alcohol (70 percent) is safe on most surfaces including door handles, plastic and imitation leather. Additional specialized treatment on leather surfaces may be needed based on manufacturer recommendations.