Seattle considers commercial insurance requirement for rideshare drivers

by: Natasha Chen Updated:


SEATTLE - In a public hearing that lasted almost four hours, taxi drivers and rideshare company representatives expressed passionate opinions on the city’s attempt to regulate rideshare businesses like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar.

The transportation committee will now draft a set of rules to vote on at their next meeting on Feb. 14.

During Thursday’s meeting, the committee members generally agreed they would like to see all drivers carry commercial insurance.

A tragedy in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve in which an Uber driver hit and killed a 6-year-old girl has sharply focused this discussion in recent weeks.

Referring to the incident, Seattle Council member Mike O’Brien said, “A lot of finger pointing saying, 'I was covered; I was not covered.'

There was debate in San Francisco whether the driver was covered under Uber’s umbrella policy, since he may not have officially accepted a ride from a passenger at the time.

Uber and Lyft representatives told KIRO 7 at Thursday’s hearing they have commercial insurance covering all drivers at $1 million per incident. 

There is uncertainty, however, about exactly the moments when the driver falls under this coverage. Some believe it is only when the driver has a passenger in the car, while others believe it should be any time the driver is logged into the system and available to take a passenger.

Kenton Brine, of Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, was invited to brief the committee on insurance policies. 

“If there was an accident involving someone who had only a personal auto policy, and did not have commercial coverage,” Brine said, “the company that they’re insured with on the personal side would deny the claim.”

Requiring each rideshare driver to carry commercial insurance, however, greatly increases the price on such rides that have generally been cheaper than conventional taxi rides.

The caps on the number of rideshare vehicles and the hours each of those drivers are permitted to work each week also concerns the rideshare community.

“The caps as is would effectively shut UberX down in the city and remove choice from the residents of Seattle,” said Brooke Steger, the general manager of Uber Seattle.

But traditional cab drivers said taxis have to fall under the city’s caps on licenses. They said they cannot compete with prices of rideshare companies who are currently unregulated.

One taxi driver said, “You guys need to take them off the street because they are taking our business, and we are fully regulated here.”