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Uber fined $750,000 for letting drivers work after customers complained of drunk driving

Uber fined $750,000 for letting drivers work after customers complained of drunk driving
A shopper at the Grove waits for a ride in a designated Uber pickup zone. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The California Public Utilities Commission fined Uber $750,000 for failing to follow a “zero tolerance” policy on investigating and suspending drivers in response to customer complaints that they were driving while intoxicated.

The fine is the result of a settlement between the commission and Rasier-CA, a company owned and created by Uber to operate its services in California. The settlement approved Thursday was reached after an administrative law judge recommended fining the company $7,500 per violation, amounting to $1,132,500.

The violations were discovered in a Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division investigation that looked at how customer complaints of intoxicated drivers were handled from August 2014 to August 2015.

Uber reported receiving more than 2,000 complaints in that period and deactivated 574 of those drivers in response. But when investigators looked more closely at 154 of those complaints, they found that Uber failed to investigate 133 of them and failed to promptly suspend drivers in all but five of the cases reviewed.

The zero-tolerance policy that Uber agreed to follow is a special exemption for ride-hailing services classified as transportation network companies, according to the proposal adopted by the state agency. Other companies overseen by the commission are required to enroll in a drug and alcohol testing program for their drivers.

The policy mandates that the company have a clearly visible and dedicated phone number or in-app call function for complaints of driver intoxication. It also requires that the company suspend drivers for further investigation promptly after a zero-tolerance complaint is filed.

The investigators found that even when Uber claimed to have suspended a driver, other records indicated that the driver went on to provide three additional rides in the two hours after the complaint was filed. The investigation further found that there was no dedicated button or phone line for zero-tolerance complaints in particular, which introduced an element of human error into the process of deciding which customer complaints required prompt response.

In addition to the fine, Uber agreed to implement an education program on zero-tolerance regulations and file a motion to expand existing regulations and develop stronger standards for the ride-hailing industry.

Drunken driving suspect crashes into construction site

WORCESTER (WHDH) – A 23-year-old man crashed into a Worcester construction site early Thursday morning while drunk behind the wheel, police say.

Officers responding about 12:16 a.m. to a single-car crash in the area of 102 Grove St. saw a 2003 Nissan Xterra under a tangled pile of scaffolding, according to Worcester police.

Police say the scaffolding was positioned in front of the old Northworks building, which is currently undergoing extensive renovations.

During their investigation, officers observed a utility light pole that was knocked down and a parking meter that was bent and noticed that a hydraulic lift received extensive damage to the control panel, mechanical components, and to a tire.

The driver of the vehicle, later identified as Jose Velez, was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and failure to stay within marked lanes, police say.

Police spoke with two witnesses that had just exited The Fix restaurant and were told that as they were walking under the scaffolding they noticed the Nissan drive through construction cones that had been set up and around the hydraulic lift.

The witnesses said they had to jump out of the way for fear that they’d be hit.

Police: Drunken driving suspect crashes into Worcester construction site

Woman was jailed on impaired driving allegations after she crashed her vehicle on U.S. 250 on Saturday night

Wendy Keathley, 47, of Mansfield, was traveling north on U.S. 250, when she lost control, drove off the right side of the road and struck a ditch, according to troopers with the Norwalk post of the state Highway Patrol.

Keathley was charged with failure to control.

She was also charged with operating a vehicle while impaired (OVI) and transported to Huron County Jail.

This was one of at least four crashes handled by troopers with the Norwalk post in recent days.

Here are summaries of the other three crashes:

6:20 a.m. Thursday: Responded to a crash on Section Line 30. Troy Felt, 28, of New London, was traveling north on Section Line 30, when he went off the left side of the road and struck a tree. Felt was charged with failure to control and reported injuries.

5:41 a.m. Friday: Responded to a crash on Ohio 113. Ronald Brown, 53, of Bellevue, was traveling east on Ohio 113, when he struck high water, lost control and struck a ditch. Brown was charged with failure to control.

2:05 p.m. Friday: Responded to a crash on New State Road. Isaiah Wolf, 17, of Mansfield, was traveling north on New State Road, when the left tie rod broke. He then drove off the east side of the road, struck a traffic sign and became partially submerged in high standing water. No injuries or charges were reported.

Police squad car struck by suspected OWI driver

A Sheboygan Police officer was transported to a hospital after suffering minor injuries when a suspected drunk driver rear-ended the officer’s squad car on Saturday night.

The incident occurred at around 8:20 p.m. at N. 14th St. and Michigan Ave. Police say the squad car was occupied by two officers when it was struck behind by another vehicle.

The driver of the car that rear-ended the squad car was a 42-year-old man from Sheboygan. He was arrested for drunk driving, according to information from the Sheboygan Police Department.

Narcotics officer charged with DWI after 4-car crash

An off-duty undercover Houston police officer has been relieved of his duties after being charged with driving while intoxicated charge after authorities said he caused a four-car crash north of downtown.

Houston police confirmed Wednesday that Officer Bobby Lee Jennings, 50, who joined the police department’s narcotics division in 1995, caused Tuesday’s multi-vehicle accident in the 1200 block of Houston Avenue.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said that the officer had been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the incident. Meanwhile misdemeanor charges against him were filed in a Harris County court-at-law, and he is free after posting a $500 personal bond, court records show.

“I’ve made it very clear … that we’re not going to tolerate drinking and driving or committing DWI,” Acevedo said. “Unlike the private sector — in this department, you will not survive if you commit DWI, you just won’t. Because ultimately I believe we will save careers, we will save lives, and we will save limbs by having a zero tolerance for DWI.”

The officer was driving along Houston Avenue when he sideswiped two vehicles and crashed into the back of another, Lt. Larry Crowson said. He was driving a city of Houston vehicle during the crash, but was not on duty but instead on call as an undercover officer, Crowson said.

As officers were investigating, they noticed the officer showed signs of intoxication and asked for a special DWI investigator to look into the situation.

“Texas is No. 1 for a lot of great things,” Acevedo said. “But we’re also No. 1 for injuries and deaths as it relates to DWI. And the city of Houston and Harris County is No. 1 in Texas for injuries and deaths involving DWI.”

Acevedo discussed the “imperfect condition” of humans, but said he has zero tolerance for driving while intoxicated. He added that the department offers their officers psychological services, a peer support program, employee assistance, and a taxi ride program.

“So there is absolutely no excuse for getting intoxicated and driving while intoxicated,” he said. “I know a lot of my employees and that most of them — it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, but they made a bad choice, and they’re going to have to pay the consequences.”

On Thursday, Houston Police Officers’ Union President Joe Gamaldi said the union would not be representing Jennings in his criminal case.

“We do represent him administratively when that times comes,” Gamaldi said. “However … it just needs to be said: We encourage everyone to make responsible choices if they’ve had too much to drink and to make sure they get a safe ride home.”