Uber Is Forcing Its Drivers To Take Work Breaks And It’s Awesome

“Oga mi, e be like say na you go be my last trip like this sef,” Bayo said. “This thing don dey give me warning again. E go soon log me out now.”

He is telling me about Uber’s drowsy driving feature (launched in the US in February 2018 and Nigeria in June 2018) which automatically takes a driver offline for six hours when the maximum driving time of 12 hours is reached. I’d heard of this feature a while back (Uber launched it in the US in February) but I didn’t think it was available in Nigeria.

The Problem

When I first heard about it, I thought it was genius. In Lagos, many Ubers routinely put in sixteen-hour days and I’ve had a few drivers who had been so tired, they’d begun to nod off while driving. The dangers of this cannot be overstated, especially when you consider the external casualties that typically result from such accidents. Though the National Bureau of Statistics reports quarterly road traffic crash numbers, tons of incidents go undocumented and the actual figures could easily be way more.  

Earning Power

As Bayo further expressed his mild disappointment that he had to stop working in the middle of a good run of three N2K+ trips, I interrupted him to ask why he’s even disappointed at all. “Bros, pikin and wife dey house o! No be breeze dem go chop,” he responded with a nervous laugh. “Make I no lie I dey get time for house tins now wey the tin go just pursue person comot. But as this motor no be my own like this, I gats hustle well well make I see better money carry go house.”

It’s safe to say drivers that own their vehicles typically drive lesser hours than their colleagues who are using partner cars. Because they have to pay Uber’s 25% commission and the Uber Partners whatever percent (which can be as high as N60K or more per week), these drivers work as long as possible everyday in an attempt to make as much money as they can.

The Good

Two days after my conversation with Bayo, another driver, Sunday, tells me a completely different story. He is not as disappointed as Bayo; he loves the drowsy driving feature. “I lost my nine to five job about four months ago and being an Uber driver is potentially the best decision I’ve made,” he told me with a small smile on the corner of his mouth. “At my old job I barely had time for anything. It was always work and sleep, work and sleep. I didn’t even see any of my kids walk for the first time. But now, even when I want to go all out, the app just takes me offline. My body is even starting to adapt to the time stuff. I rest more now.”

Sunday said he takes his three daughters out and spends more time with his family now. He’s even added some weight to his wiry frame. However, he admits that it’s only because he owns his car: “You know we Uber drivers talk to ourselves and sometimes I feel sorry for my guys that have to switch to Taxify [and continue working] when Uber shuts them out,” he said.  That last part caught my attention. “What do you mean ‘switch to Taxify’?” I asked him.

The Bad

Apparently, some Uber drivers game the system by switching to the Taxify app when the Uber time limit forces them off Uber’s platform. “Ah, you know Naija people na. We must find a way. Once Uber takes them offline like this, people will just change to Taxify sharp sharp! No time!” Sunday said.

A very small portion (about 0.06%) of the total road crashes (86) recorded in Q1 2018 in Lagos State (Uber’s main market in Nigeria) is attributed to dangerous driving and ‘sleeping on steering’ but this number can easily climb if drivers keep ignoring safety systems like Uber’s.

The Ugly

Charles, on the other hand, hates Uber’s drowsy driving feature entirely. He doesn’t care whether it’s healthy for him or not – it gives him problems with his Uber partner and he doesn’t want that.

“The woman go dey tell me say why I no make complete money after I don explain and she dey see as the thing dey do for her side. She go still dey yarn say make I go find the remaining money. Which kain wahala be that one?” he said, a giant crease forming on his forehead. “Make dem leave the thing as e be before abeg. I no get power to dey follow this woman drag. At least make dem wait until my car money complete.”

Charles’ family are in Awka and he doesn’t need the ‘free’ time, he said. If anything, he’d like to work as much as he can since that’s the reason he came to Lagos in the first place.

Opinions on Uber’s drowsy driving feature varies from driver to driver. At least, Uber is making an attempt to ensure our comfort doesn’t turn to casket.