Rideshare drivers secure amendments that allow them to touch their mobiles

Michael Weaver 6 February 2020 30
John Burge

One of Canberra’s first Uber drivers, John Burge, has pushed for upgrades to laws for rideshare drivers. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

One of the first rideshare drivers in Canberra has ensured that the more than 2000 drivers in the ACT do not receive hefty fines for touching their mobile phones while driving.

When Uber driver John Burge noticed that the legality of touching his phone while on the job was “at best doubtful”, he contacted the Minister for Justice, Consumer Affairs and Road Safety Shane Rattenbury who checked the legislation.

As a result, on 20 December last year amendments to sections 299 and 300 of the Road Transport (Road Rules) Regulation 2017 were made by the ACT Government.

Mr Rattenbury responded to Mr Burge, saying, “The amendments clarify that rideshare, taxi and hire car drivers can use their mobile device as a driver’s aid (for example, a dispatch system) while the vehicle is moving if the information displayed is in relation to the transport of passengers.

“This includes touching the device to accept or reject a job request but does not include touching the device to enter an address or other text-based information. The body of the mobile device must be secured in a mounting affixed to the vehicle while being used.”

Mr Burge told Region Media the amendments to the legislation were important to rideshare drivers’ business.

“My concern was that unless the car was parked, was it legal for us to touch the phone?

“The issue here is that to do our job, we have to touch the phone when a ride request comes in. We get the notification and we need to accept or reject it. To accept it, you have to touch the phone. Once you pick up the passenger, you have to start the trip by touching the phone and the same happens when you end the trip,” Mr Burge said.

The fine in the ACT for touching your phone while in control of a motor vehicle is $480 or three demerit points. If the driver is using the mobile for social media or the internet, the fine goes up to $588 with a loss of four demerit points.

Mr Burge said the effect of these fines for rideshare drivers would be catastrophic, as rideshare drivers tend to be low-income earners.

“The issue for me was, is it legal to touch our phones and are we at a risk of getting one of those massive fines, which could seriously affect our income and would be close to losing our licence?

“It was worse than being a grey area. I came to the conclusion that using a mobile phone while driving was likely to be illegal.”

Mr Burge said he was not aware of any rideshare drivers who had been fined for using mobile phones while driving. He had also never received a complaint from a passenger about accepting or declining rides while driving.

“Thankfully, I don’t have a great big list of complaints,” Mr Burge said.

“For the drivers, there was a very serious doubt of whether the very basics of doing our job and accepting rides while driving was legal.

“All it would take would be someone to say that the law doesn’t allow that for it to have an impact on a rideshare driver.”

Mr Burge has been driving for Uber since November 2015, when the company began operating in the ACT – the first state or territory in Australia to allow rideshare drivers to operate in the same way a taxi does.

He also convenes a weekly get-together of rideshare drivers who discuss the issues they face over an informal lunch.

Alongside Uber, there are now a number of rideshare businesses operating in Canberra such as Shebah (the female-only platform), Ola and Go Catch.

“My understanding is that there are about 2000 rideshare drivers in Canberra, with a smaller proportion being regularly active drivers,” Mr Burge said.

“I do it because I enjoy human interaction and meeting people and having some great conversations.

“Our operating costs are quite high and it’s really best viewed as a supplementary form of income, but I just love doing it and being an advocate for the many drivers we have out there helping people get to where they need to go.”

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30 Responses to Rideshare drivers secure amendments that allow them to touch their mobiles
Raymond A Perkins Raymond A Perkins 11:00 am 15 Feb 20

I sent this email to the Road Safety Commission and I am waiting for a reply. Hi Claire

Thank you for the article on the new laws governing the use of mobile phones while driving.

I am a licensed Passenger Transport Vehicle driver operating in the Rideshare Industry.

The Rideshare Industry is based around the use of their software that is accessed via the mobile phone.

The phones are used for viewing and accepting the trip which involves touching the phone, once the trip has been started the inbuilt navigation is used to guide the driver to the rider,

if there is a problem finding the rider the rider or driver has to text or phone the rider to confirm pickup location from within the app, the driver then has to start the trip and follow the navigation to the drop off point,

along the way another job may come in which has to be accepted by again touching the phone, once drop off has been made the phone is then touched to finish the trip.

How is the Rideshare Industry going to operate if these laws apply to them.

There should be an exemption given to the Rideshare Industry for when the Apps are being used.

Taxi’s are given exemption for operating their industry equipment.

From July this year all Taxi Drivers and Rideshare operators that have F and T Extensions on their licences will all come under the one PTD classification.

“From the DOT received last week: Get ready for Passenger Transport Driver authorisations

In July 2020, Passenger Transport Driver (PTD) authorisations will be introduced. These annual authorisations replace F and T extensions and enable the holder to drive any passenger transport vehicle as long as they have the correct licence class on their driver’s licence.

Existing F and T extension holders will have until mid-2021 to apply for a PTD authorisation – they will not be automatically transitioned. Applications are only available via DoTDirect.

In preparation for the change, applications for F and T extensions will not be accepted after 12 June 2020.

If you are taking bookings for drivers, it is important to start planning how you will ensure your drivers are appropriately authorised from July 2020. Remember – the Driver and Vehicle Industry Dashboard is available to help you check driver authorisation status.

What should I do now?

• Encourage your drivers to get a DoTDirect account – they just need a driver’s licence and recent vehicle registration.

Consider how the move to PTDs and closure of F and T extension applications will affect your driver on-boarding processes and safety management system”

If there is no exemption for use of the mobile phone for PTD operators then the whole Rideshare Industry is now rendered inoperative.

Your thoughts and feedback would be appreciated.

Yours faithfully

I then sent an email to our Department of Transport and had this reply: Good morning Ray,

The Road Safety Commission are the appropriate agency to respond to this for you. From a legal perspective, as these offences are contained in legislation they administer any exemptions would also need to sit in that legislation (the Road Traffic Code 2000), rather than in the Transport (Road Passenger Services) Act 2018 or associated regulations which the Department of Transport administers.

The Department of Transport does liaise with the commission on issues such as this.



Allan Lantzke

Manager Safety Assurance | On-demand Transport | Department of Transport

I have also sent messages to my local member to get clarification on these new laws with the Transport Minister and to obtain exemptions otherwise the media will have to get involved. The Government approved Rideshare and the Legislation to accomodate it with the creation of new On Demand Booking Services and licensing of PTV "Passenger Transport Vehicle" and now a new licence category for all drivers (Taxi and Rideshare) PTD "Passenger Transport Driver". With all of this new creation and adaptation of Rideshare to have laws that would make Rideshare Extinct is absolutely ridiculous.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:59 am 15 Feb 20

It is likely that UBER and other similar gigs will fail so all this discussion is academic.


Raymond A Perkins Raymond A Perkins 10:49 am 15 Feb 20

All Taxi Drivers and Rideshare drivers from 1st July 2020 will all come under the one Licence Category PTD "Passenger Transport Driver". The F and T extensions on their licence is being scrapped. Shouldn't this mean that all of these drivers are able to use the tools required to carry out their job. For those people that use Rideshare these new laws could make Rideshare Extinct.

Slade Jones Slade Jones 8:37 am 15 Feb 20

everyones upset about drivers touching their phones. It's a simple '1 button push' to accept a trip. Nothing more. Do you have a radio in the car? Do you adjust aircon vents? etc etc

Kimberley Lloyd Kimberley Lloyd 10:15 pm 09 Feb 20

Hopefully this mentions that they can’t have a passenger in the car at the time

Spiral Spiral 1:02 pm 09 Feb 20

I wonder how Uber drivers compare to taxi drivers? Based on my observations taxi driver are worse than the average driver and if anything should be subject to stricter requirements than the average person.

Part of this seems to be an attitude that because their income depends on getting places they are entitled to cut other drivers off, change lanes without indicating and disobey other rules that apply to us normal drivers.

If Uber drivers have a similar attitude then they certainly don’t deserve exemptions from normal rules.

Peter McMahon Peter McMahon 7:40 am 09 Feb 20

Makes a whole nonsense of the ad campaign. Another POS legislation amendment implemented by our useless politicians. Goes hand in hand with the ridiculous Escooter amendments.

David Newman David Newman 1:56 am 09 Feb 20

So if someone is injured in an ‘accident’ because a driver is distracted by their phone at a critical time, will they be subject to the same laws as normal drivers in this instance? If not, surely we can sue the ACT Government for instituting a change that has increased risk to us.

    David Newman David Newman 10:11 am 09 Feb 20

    Harley Josh, I actually agree. My post does not differentiate between any type of driver authorised under this change.

    David Newman David Newman 2:44 pm 09 Feb 20

    John Corey, no, I am just a potential passenger and, as said above, my post does not differentiate between any type of driver

Colin Vine Colin Vine 10:53 pm 08 Feb 20

I assume the additional skill required above and beyond that of the average driver is imparted on the highly trained ride share driver during the rigorous skills development undertaken before being assessed as suitable to perform the role?

    David Newman David Newman 2:00 am 09 Feb 20

    Colin Vine, oh, and don’t forget the rigorous risk analysis that the Government would have done beforehand in assessing the risk differential between these drivers and other drivers. Seeing as the likelihood of these drivers having an incident because of this is increased because of the frequency of them doing it, then the risk would 🤔 ..... oh, yeah 😱

    Alan Hartcher Alan Hartcher 11:54 am 09 Feb 20

    You mean they fill in a peice of paper and watch a 2 minute long training video?

    Colin Vine Colin Vine 1:09 pm 09 Feb 20

    Two whole minutes Alan? I feel safer already.

Veronika Sain Veronika Sain 8:46 pm 08 Feb 20

How is it safer to any other person driving their own car and using a mobile exactly? Be it taxi or uber I don't want a driver who's fiddling with their phone instead of looking where they're driving.

    Tristan Peemoeller Tristan Peemoeller 9:12 pm 08 Feb 20

    I think there is a big difference between texting, browsing and social media than pressing a button to acknowledge you have picked up your passenger and when you have dropped them off. I think trying to be sneaky about using your phone in your lap makes it worse than operating it from a cradle as your eye are off the road for much longer.

    The laws around the usage of technology are sometimes slow to change. It is still illegal to use your phone to pay for you order in a drive through yet it happens all the time.

    Veronika Sain Veronika Sain 9:34 pm 08 Feb 20

    If they're acknowledging a pick up and drop off they can do that when they pick someone up and when they drop someone off, not while moving in traffic. You and I know this is more about tapping the phone while driving to say they're in an area trying to book the next fare, and it'll be very distracting. No different to anyone being called of texted while driving.

    David Newman David Newman 2:02 am 09 Feb 20

    Tristan Peemoeller, if this is the case, then how about they just change the laws so that anyone can acknowledge a text, for example. But they didn’t make that change - why not?

    Tristan Peemoeller Tristan Peemoeller 2:54 pm 09 Feb 20

    Hey Veronika,

    I am sorry for the confusion but I could not agree with you more when they are playing with their phone (Uber etc) or mobile data terminal (taxi).

    I recall a cab ride long ago how the driver stopped the meter so he could pick up another job before he even finished with mine. Most of that journey was him complaining there were no jobs in my area.

    What I like about Uber’s setup is the driver cannot go looking or peak at additional jobs while they still have your in the car. They would have to do a similar thing and stop the fare early. Uber drivers value their reputation score a bit too much to do that on the regular.

    What I thought was good about the change of laws is the process for accepting jobs is a single press and they you’re told where to go. At the end of the job tap it is over and then rate you as a passenger out of 5.

    After that the driver gets offered his next ride which he just needs to tap to accept or if there are no jobs in a area they are given a suggestion to travel somewhere busier.

    The system doesn’t allow you to cherry pick jobs. It is only if a long job comes up that you would know this a head of time before accepting. Likewise if you want to finish up and take a job that will get you home you can tell Uber this and they will try to match you up this way.

    So yes I can see where you’re coming from with a regular taxi, but an Uber driver cannot really fiddle with their phone and the Uber app in the same way.

    Tristan Peemoeller Tristan Peemoeller 3:19 pm 09 Feb 20

    Hey David

    Been thinking about what you said about replying to a text.

    It made me think of a mate back in the day when the phone to have was a Nokia with predictive text. As it was a physical button he could write text after text without having to regularly look at the screen of his phone.

    I think it is a little sad that the cars that young people drive don’t have features such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to read you messages you have received and dictate a reply. You can use those without having to take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.

    i don’t feel that texting and using the Uber app as a driver are the same thing. Unless you have the phone unlocked and mounted in a cradle you would need to take the phone out of your bag or pocket, unlock the screen, fire up the text app, read the message and type out a reply.

    How far would you travel if you were driving distracted like that?

    I wish we didn’t have to have laws about this, but with the road toll rising after many years of decline I don’t know what to say. I have had a few near misses with distracted drivers. It is easy to spot at night as the glow fills the interior.

    So yeah, I am open for suggestions for what to do but texting and Ubering in my opinion aren’t the same.

    Ryan Daniel Ryan Daniel 5:10 pm 09 Feb 20

    Veronika Sain even the pick up and drop off presses probably would have been illegal because they would have had the keys still in the ignition. The other one they press while driving is to accept the next ride so they can drop the current passenger off and then leave immediately to the next

    Raymond A Perkins Raymond A Perkins 10:42 am 15 Feb 20

    Hi Veronika there is a lot more to rideshare apps and jobs have to be accepted ASAP when they appear on the phone. If people expect us to pull over as quickly as possible and stop the car to accept a job then this is going to cause far more accidents. If you are not happy with rideshare apps being used while driving then you may have to look at walking in the future.

Frank Trapani Frank Trapani 8:39 pm 08 Feb 20

Do you think that the legislation would have been amended for someone else... Other than Uber? And Who's Uber??


Formerly UberCab (2009–2011)

Total assets US$23.988 billion (2018)

Total equity US$10.333 billion (2018)

Owner SoftBank Group (16.3%) Benchmark Capital Partners (11.0%) Travis Kalanick (8.6%) Garrett Camp (6.0%) Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (5.4%) Alphabet Inc. (5.2%) Ryan Graves (2.4%)

Surprised?? It seems that there is no barriers for Corporate Groups. But, I don't think that it would have been the same if it was a request from Local Cabs!!

information taken from; Uber - Wikipedia

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 8:49 pm 08 Feb 20

    Frank Trapani local cab companies didn’t need to even ask as they are allowed to use their dispatch systems.

    This was about ride sharing companies getting mobiles classified as dispatch systems so they are in the same boat as local cab companies.

    Me personally neither cabs nor ride share companies should be touching anything like that whilst driving.

    Frank Trapani Frank Trapani 9:07 pm 08 Feb 20

    Ashley Wright. Thank you..Yes, I second that.

Owen Turner Owen Turner 8:17 pm 08 Feb 20

Use cabs and Uber a lot for work.

Some of the worst drivers on the road, this is just a dumb change.

    Graham Franklin-Browne Graham Franklin-Browne 8:39 pm 08 Feb 20

    Owen Turner My experience is different. Haven't had a bad one yet.

David Malcolm David Malcolm 8:12 pm 08 Feb 20

What makes them so special compared to say a self employed tradie?

    David Newman David Newman 1:52 am 09 Feb 20

    David Malcolm, because Uber is fashionable, nothing else. This change is rubbish and dangerous

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 6:07 pm 08 Feb 20

Oh, so it is safe after all, to be distracted for long enough to read the information on and touch a mobile phone.

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