Multi-job professional drivers: the safety challenge

Freelance drivers – also known as multi-job professionals or gig workers – play a crucial role in the transport and logistics sector, carrying out driving tasks for different employers or platforms. But, while this flexibility offers economic benefits, it creates four major safety challenges.

1. It generates risk-taking behaviours

The gig economy is highly competitive, and drivers may feel the need to outperform their peers to secure more jobs. Multi-job drivers face time constraints as they try to fulfil obligations for different employers or platforms. The pressure to complete tasks as quickly as possible may lead to speeding or shortcuts, increasing the risk of accidents.

There is evidence to back this up. Canada’s McMaster University has found that drivers who juggle multiple jobs are more likely to take risks on the road. 

The University states: “Drivers often make at, or below, minimum wage and are paid per job completed, rather than per hour. This means drivers feel pressure to get to destinations quickly, so they are more likely to make illegal U-turns, speed or run lights.

It’s also known that drivers in this sector lack access to traditional employment benefits, including health and safety provisions and that these limited support systems hinder drivers' ability to address safety concerns. Added together, it’s an environment that encourages risk-taking behaviour to stand out and increase job opportunities.

Among the potential solutions to this are better wages, mandatory paid breaks and the fact that schedules are increasingly controlled by algorithms rather than people who might have more awareness of safety concerns if put back in charge of scheduling (or at least given the chance to influence the algorithm where there is a safety concern). Gig platforms should also reconsider offering incentives or bonuses for completing a certain number of tasks within a specific timeframe.

2. It leads to more tired drivers on the roads

One of the key risks is that working multiple jobs can result in long and irregular hours, leading to driver fatigue and exhaustion.

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive notes that “tiredness increases reaction time and reduces vigilance, alertness and concentration. It can also affect how fast you process information and the quality of your decision-making.”

It states that drivers and riders are most likely to suffer from fatigue on long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways, between 2-6 am or 2-4 pm; after eating and after long working hours or on journeys home, especially after night shifts.

It’s borne out in the collision statistics, too. An Australian study from April 2023 reported: “Driver fatigue is a contributory factor in approximately 20% of vehicle crashes. While other causal factors (e.g., drink-driving) have decreased due to increased public education strategies and punitive measures, similar decreases have not been seen in fatigue-related crashes.”

The study’s authors claim that there may be the potential for fatigue-related impairment to be defined as between 4-5 hours of prior sleep, where the likelihood of being in a fatigue-related vehicle crash is at least double that of a well-rested individual.

The paper suggests that fatigued driving could be managed in a similar way to drink-driving, with a set amount of prior sleep after which drivers are ‘deemed impaired’.

3. It creates distractions and leads to multitasking

Multitasking – something this community of drivers is faced with daily – increases the risk of accidents and jeopardises road safety. This is because managing multiple apps and platforms while driving is dangerous. 

While many people claim to be good at multitasking, the US National Safety Council has previously referred to the ‘great multitasking lie’. The NSC says: “Your brain cannot process two things at once”, instead it simply switches attention from one task to another. 

It also notes that “96% of people think texting while driving is dangerous, yet 44% do it”. It adds that this is dangerous even when sitting at red lights or stop signs as it takes some time for your brain to return its focus to the road.

In terms of accidents, the 100-Car Naturalistic Study in the USA recorded the activities of 241 drivers over the course of a year. It found that 78% of the crashes and 65% of near-crashes had one form of inattention or distraction as a contributing factor - including inattention due to fatigue.

Does distraction apply more to freelance drivers? Yes, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Ride-share drivers and other gig-economy workers are among the worst distracted driving offenders. They are more than twice as likely as other drivers to engage in some distracting activity, and nearly four times as likely to use smartphone apps regularly while driving.”

The IIHS says that ridesharing and delivery companies should put in place or strengthen policies that mandate safe practices for necessary operations and restrict device-based behaviours that are not an essential part of the job.

4. It raises vehicle-maintenance challenges

Multi-job drivers often use their own vehicles for work, and the responsibility for maintenance falls on them. However, the risk is that they cut corners with maintenance to save money. This is the view of FleetCheck managing director Peter Golding, who says: “The current economic situation means that people are feeling the pinch and looking to make savings. Their car is one place where they may well look to reduce expenditure.

“There are several ways in which they might try to achieve this. One is to postpone routine maintenance, either in the shape of regular servicing or in delaying replacing worn items like tyres and brake pads. 

“Another is that they might reduce their insurance cover to third-party only or not bother with the business element of their policy.

“We are already hearing anecdotal feedback that this is happening on some fleets, and it is clear that fleet managers need to be extra-vigilant when it comes to the checks that they make on grey fleet drivers and vehicles.”

Unfortunately, poorly maintained vehicles increase the risk of mechanical failures, contributing to accidents on the road.

RoSPA in the UK runs through the regular essential checks, such as tyres, brakes, mirrors and lights. It also advises that all drivers must also ensure that their vehicle is loaded safely. It states: “It is illegal and dangerous to drive a vehicle that is overloaded or has an insecure load. As the driver, you are responsible for ensuring that any load you carry is legal and safe, even if it was loaded by another person.”  

It also questions whether gig economy drivers are always aware that if driving with a heavier load, tyre pressures should be adjusted as it will affect the vehicle’s handling and stopping distances. 

How to fix things?

Employers have a responsibility to act, whether it’s in education and training or changing how they schedule and incentivise drivers. 

There are, obviously, some technological solutions on the market to enhance road safety, and we know that ride-sharing and delivery platforms are increasingly moving into this market.

Whether it’s emergency assistance, fatigue detection, improving driver behaviours or route optimisation, this is a fast-developing field. 

The challenge lies in creating a balance between the flexibility offered by gig work and ensuring the safety of drivers. Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative effort from governments, companies and drivers themselves to ensure a safer and more sustainable future for this growing segment of the workforce.

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