SINGAPORE: “They are scared seeing young Uber drivers practically staring at their Global Positioning System (GPS) apps on their mobile phone during their journey,” said Lance, after dropping the last of his Uber Pool passengers.
The 40-year-old writer, who drives most nights and weekends, said his passengers often tell him about their bad experiences with other Uber drivers. Among their complaints are that young drivers are not familiar with the roads, and that they rely too much on GPS.
“I have 19 years of experience, and honestly, all those years on the roads makes you a safer driver. I encounter drivers constantly staring at their GPS, and my passengers tell me they are worried the driver is not looking at the road,” he said.
A fatal accident involving a 22-year-old Uber driver on Sunday (Jul 9) brought up fresh concerns over the private-hire car industry’s pool of young drivers, and whether they have the skills and experience to ferry passengers safely.
The driver is said to have lost control of the vehicle before crashing into a tree, resulting in the death of his passenger. It was the third-known fatality involving an Uber driver.
SHOULD THERE BE A MINIMUM AGE FOR PRIVATE-HIRE CAR DRIVERS?
The incidents have generated debate as to whether private-car hire companies like GrabCar and Uber should have a minimum age for their drivers.
Unlike taxi drivers who are required to be at least 30 years old, there is no minimum age for private-hire drivers by law.
Private-hire car drivers are only required to have at least two years of driving experience. This is enough to “reasonably ensure passenger safety," Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said in January.
“There is no need to also discriminate on the basis of age. In fact, where safety is concerned, the number of years of driving experience may be more important than age,” he stated in Parliament.
However, advocates for a minimum age point to statistics which show that younger drivers are more prone to being involved in road accidents.
In a December 2016 press release looking at the impact of the shared economy on auto insurance, AIG Singapore's head of auto insurance, Manik Bucha, said drivers who use rental cars for commercial purposes are not only more likely to spend more time behind the wheel, many are also young drivers who are "almost twice as likely to have an accident compared to the average driver."
This is in line with a road safety survey previously done by the insurance company, which found that younger drivers are more likely to exhibit dangerous behaviour on the road compared to older drivers.
The release went on to say that young drivers are "are more likely to text, surf the Internet, call someone on their mobile phone or check their GPS when stuck at the traffic light."
In fact, the presence of private-car hire and car-sharing companies is impacting the way insurers underwrite risk, AIG said.
GrabCar said between 20 and 30 per cent of its drivers here are younger than 30, and the company set its own minimum age of 21 years old for drivers.
At Uber Singapore, one in four drivers is below the age of 30, similar to the proportion at GrabCar. There is, however, no minimum age stipulated to drive with Uber.
For one Uber driver who previously drove taxis for 10 years, he feels older driver are better able to react to changing conditions on the road.
“When it comes to responding to urgent situations, younger drivers are not very steady,” Mr Chua told Channel NewsAsia.
“The more experienced you are, the more aware you are of the roads and you are also able to understand how the car will respond to different conditions," he added.
"AGE ITSELF SHOULDN'T BE AN ISSUE": TRANSPORT EXPERT
The Government has made recent efforts to regulate the private-hire industry.
Under new laws which kicked in this month, private-hire cars have to display decals on the front and back of their vehicles, to allow commuters to identify such services. The idea is to better protect passengers.
Drivers would also need to hold a valid Private Hire Car Driver’s Vocational Licence (PDVL) by first attending a course.
While the Government’s reason for introducing the framework is aimed at ensuring drivers have sufficient skills and knowledge to provide a safe service for commuters, it has ruled out imposing minimum age as another criteria.
Transport Minister Khaw made this point in January: "An older person who has just gotten his driving licence might be less confident behind the wheels, compared to a younger person, say 25 years old, who has been driving for a few years.”
Transport expert Gopinath Menon agreed, saying the issue is not one’s age, but how many years of experience drivers have behind the wheel. He said companies like Grab and Uber should do more to ensure drivers have consistent experience on the roads.
“The requirement states you must have two years of experience but how do you check if they have been driving consistently for two years? That’s the problem,” said Mr Menon who is a senior research fellow at the Nanyang Technological University.
“They should ask ... for some kind of proof that they have been driving consistently (and) whether they owned a car or drove their parents’ car. But age itself shouldn’t be an issue.”
GRAB AND UBER USING TECHNOLOGY TO ENSURE SAFER RIDES
Both Uber Singapore and GrabCar did not respond to questions on how many of their drivers have been involved in accidents. But they said the companies are leveraging technological advancements to ensure safer journeys for riders and drivers.
Uber Singapore said it recently introduced in-app safety features for drivers. For instance, it sends messages in the driver’s app informing them to mount their phone on the dashboard.
It also displays the driver’s speed in the app and measures how hard drivers brake and how fast they accelerate.
“Uber Singapore takes safety for both riders and driver-partners very seriously,” the statement read.
It added: "It is important to note that we facilitate millions of safe, reliable rides every week. These incidents are in no way representative of the overall Uber experience for hundreds of thousands of riders and tens of thousands of driver-partners in Singapore.”
Grab, meanwhile, said it used telematics to initially monitor and reduce speeding through the app, and noticed that there was a 35 per cent reduction in speeding incidents across Southeast Asia. It said it now tracks other indicators of unsafe driving behaviour, such as hard braking, sudden acceleration and dangerous swerving.
“In instances where drivers receive multiple reports demonstrating dangerous driving behaviour, drivers will be asked to take re-training sessions and, in some cases, will be suspended,” it said in a statement.