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Uber and Lyft drivers are on their own if injured

Ridesharing is just another facet of the newly-minted sharing economy, in which consumers around the globe have turned to social media to get their goods and services for a fraction of the cost. Companies such as Uber and Lyft have taken advantage of new technology and the public's desire to obtain cheap and convenient rides from nearly anywhere. For passengers, the ability to use an app to get a ride home from the airport for significantly less than a cab fare keeps them coming back for more. For drivers, the ability to work as an independent contractor, choose their own hours and earn a generous yet flexible income keeps them behind the wheel.

However, many drivers are finding that there are significant risks to working for companies like Uber and Lyft. And beyond that, there's not much their companies can do to protect them in the event of an injury or accident. According to a report published on Wired, an increasing number of drivers for ridesharing companies are being injured by passengers or are involved in accidents, but these incidents are rarely reported to the general public. It's one of the darker secrets of the widely-used ridesharing system. 

What's really happening to Uber and Lyft drivers? 

Social media is rife with accounts of passengers who had horrific experiences with their ridesharing drivers, but the lesser-known reality is the one that drivers face on a daily basis. Many of the passengers that drivers pick up need a safe ride home after a fun night out, but at this point these individuals are often unruly or incapacitated. They can transform their drunken stupor into a rage against the driver in a matter of moments. Passengers have been known to physically assault drivers, to damage their vehicles or to steal their property. Of course, Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies don't share the incident reports with the public, but word has circulated throughout the drivers' social circles. Dangerous passengers are a very real risk of becoming a driver for one of these companies.

Why don't these drivers qualify for workers' compensation?

Despite the fact that Uber and Lyft drivers in Denver face work-related risks every day on the job, they are not eligible for workers' compensation. This is due to the fact that Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies hire their drivers as independent contractors. Independent contractors, by law, are self-employed individuals who are not eligible for workers' compensation. By hiring individuals as independent contractors, the companies also are able to give their drivers both autonomy and flexibility. They can choose when they want to offer their ride services — either during the business hours or during the late-night rush when people are leaving their favorite entertainment venues. They can decide which days they work and which days they are off, they are literally in charge of their own little ridesharing business. However, the independent contractor status also prevents these companies from creating on-the-job training programs that can provide drivers with more information and resources about staying safe while working.

How can drivers prevent incidents, injuries and accidents from occurring?

Uber and Lyft drivers can take preventative measures to help minimize their work-related risks. Drivers can first consider choosing a schedule that will decrease their contact with unruly passengers. While the late-night hours provide an opportunity to significantly boost income, it also can be a risky time to pick up passengers. In addition to selecting a safe schedule, drivers also can use low-tech interventions to minimize negative interactions with passengers. Both Uber and Lyft are considering adding rear-facing mirrors, simple games and other amenities into their cars to help distract passengers and keep risky experiences at bay.

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