Where are your passengers going, and are you responsible for knowing why you’re taking them there? A huge controversy has erupted over a new law in Texas since it could potentially hold drivers accountable for taking women seeking abortions to clinics where the procedure can be safely performed.
In this blog post, we’ll examine exactly what Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB8) says, how it could impact drivers, and what the TNCs are doing to make sure drivers are covered. Here’s how we’ll do it:
- What is Texas SB8, and what does it have to do with drivers?
- Are drivers responsible for knowing where they’re taking customers and why?
- How Lyft and Uber plan to protect drivers
- Should there be laws that protect drivers and TNCs?
What is Texas SB8, and what does it have to do with drivers?
When the Supreme Court declined to block the enforcement of Texas Senate Bill 8 in a 5–4 decision last week, the country’s most restrictive law regarding abortion was allowed to become part of life in Texas. The law, also called “The Heartbeat Bill,” prohibits abortions from being administered after six weeks of gestation.
This law obviously affects women in Texas who are experiencing unwanted pregnancies, but it also has (or did have) potential ramifications for rideshare drivers. The concern arose over a clause that allows any person to file a civil lawsuit for “aiding and abetting” an abortion procedure that is illegal under this state law.
SB8 further stipulates that plaintiffs in such lawsuits would stand to collect a minimum of $10,000 for each abortion that is challenged by the lawsuit. That’s quite a scary thing to think about. You pick up a woman, drive her to a clinic, never discussing why she’s going there, and before you know it you’re being fined $10,000 – for simply doing your job.
If you believe the idea that a rideshare driver could be sued for driving a woman to get an abortion is unreasonable, you’re not alone. Later in this post, we’ll share the names of some powerful people who are right there with you.
But first, let’s look more closely at the issue of your responsibility as a driver.
Are drivers responsible for knowing where they’re taking customers, and why?
Most drivers would certainly hope not! How many of us have picked up a dude with an overstuffed messenger bag, noticed him sending out several texts, and dropped him off on a nondescript corner in a sketchy neighborhood?
Okay, he could have been delivering cookies to his grandma or something. But he also might have been carrying illegal substances or items in your car and had you drop him off where he could conveniently proceed to commit a felony or two.
You’ve probably seen the other end of these transactions, too. Your passenger is an obviously sweaty, anxious woman in her mid-30s, in a hurry to have you drive her to an apartment complex known for being a hotspot for drugs. You stop. She tells you to wait. Now you’re sweating.
Thankfully, she comes back in 5, but with a glazed look on her face and a slight stagger. She plops herself down and nods off in your back seat while you drive her home.
People do all sorts of things we, as drivers, wouldn’t want to be involved with, but the job comes with these sometimes harrowing experiences. What would happen if you get stopped by the cops and the dude’s stash is discovered? Or, what if that suddenly “peaceful” passenger ODs in your vehicle? Are you responsible?
Let’s look at the companies’ position on this issue, and specifically, their plans for supporting drivers who might be impacted by lawsuits resulting from the provisions of SB 8.
How Lyft and Uber plan to protect drivers
As it turns out, both Uber and Lyft have stated that drivers are not responsible for knowing where their passengers are going and what they’re about to do – whether it’s legal or not.
Read more in this message that was sent out over the Lyft app:
Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, matched Lyft’s offer to protect drivers with one of Uber’s own, as shown in this Twitter exchange with Lyft CEO Logan Green:
It’s good to know that the companies believe drivers are not responsible for monitoring their passengers’ compliance or non-compliance with laws that don’t pertain to their ride. It’s even better to see what Lyft and Uber have done to make sure drivers are not put in the position of paying the legal fees resulting from an SB 8-inspired lawsuit.
By offering coverage to legal expenses, including fines incurred by drivers who get caught up in the intricacies of SB8, the companies have put a lot of money on the line. While this is generous and righteous, is it a viable long-term solution?
Should there be laws that protect drivers and TNCs?
No one knows how much the promises put forth by Uber and Lyft might cost. For one thing, SB8 might not have a very long run. Almost immediately after the Supreme Court declined to block it, Planned Parenthood filed a major lawsuit to challenge it on the state level. If things go the way the pro-choice faction hopes, SB8 might become a moot point. Still, the issue of whether drivers should be responsible for where they’re taking passengers could arise again.
At any given time, another law could be written and passed that accuse drivers of “aiding and abetting” a crime. Let’s say that an anti-drug faction passes another law that nails drivers for taking dealers and users as passengers, knowingly or not.
Would Lyft and Uber be able to afford the cost of covering the immense amount of legal fees that could result from a situation like this? It’s not very likely. Therefore, maybe it comes down to drivers working with the companies to come up with ways to indemnify drivers from being sued or prosecuted.
There are many circumstances in which drivers and companies are pitted against one another, but in this case, the best thing they can do is work together. One possible solution to ensure protection for drivers, and for the companies, is to work with legislators to pass laws that protect gig drivers from unfair prosecution.
At this point, Lyft, Uber, and their drivers have enough to worry about simply by trying to handle SB8, but it’s never too soon to look out for other problems that might arise. It could also be time for drivers and their companies to start working together so the companies can leverage their finances and influence to ensure they’ve always got their drivers’ backs.
Extra support from Gridwise
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- Get airport, event, weather, and traffic information.
- Take advantage of deals and discounts for drivers.
- Get an overview of your gig driving business with great graphs like these: