At 1 p.m. on February 21, Tejaswini Divya Naik booked an Uber to drive her from Pune to Mumbai, a 150 km distance. She sat in her ride and, as most of us would, occupied herself with her phone to kill time. But, as Naik was chatting away with a close friend, she noticed her driver was swerving the car dangerously and constantly shaking his drooping head to stay awake. At first, Naik tried to shrug it off, but soon enough, the driver passed out while still at the wheel, almost crashing the car into a divider on the highway. That’s when Naik decided it was time to step in.
“The driver’s head was completely down, but though I was stressed, I knew I had to remain calm and wake him up pyaar se (with love) so he wouldn’t have a jerk reaction on waking up and actually crash the car,” Naik told VICE, recounting the scary incident. When she was still three hours from Mumbai, Naik convinced the driver to hand over the wheels to her despite having a fracture in her lower back. “I had no choice at the time; I couldn’t take the risk of him falling asleep again. Even then, I had to convince him that I love driving and do it all the time before he let me take over his car, even though he was at fault. I feel like that’s probably because I’m a woman and he didn’t trust me to drive,” she said. Even though Naik had to drive her own Uber all the way home because her driver was too tired to, she mentioned that instead of passing out in the passenger seat, he kept texting and calling people. “I asked him to stop using his phone and just sleep, to which he replied saying ‘Madam aap kya acche se chalate ho, aurate itna accha nahi chalati (You drive so well despite being a woman)’, which pissed me off to another level.”
After making sure she reached home safely, Naik refused to pay the driver and immediately took up the issue with Uber. However, the cab service app is allegedly taking her for a ride. “They said if I wanted to be compensated, I would have to file an FIR with the police, which is difficult since the incident occurred on the Mumbai-Pune highway, and not in any city’s jurisdiction,” she said.
Naik says that the whole experience has made her afraid of taking any kind of cab, prompting her to either take rickshaws or walk everywhere she goes. “These kind of incidents happen probably because the drivers are majorly underpaid by Uber (and hence having to take on long shifts to make good money) or because they don’t have enough drivers so they have to keep reshuffling them to keep up. I think they really should hire female drivers if they want to increase their numbers and make women passengers feel safer.”
This is not only a story of the ultimate getaway driver, but also a lesson on the importance of letting your employees get enough sleep. This isn’t the first time a professional driver has fallen asleep at the wheel, with reports of bus, train and truck drivers doing so also constantly coming up. A 2019 study on microsleep or an involuntary short nap caused by fatigue showed that those who were underpaid or had high debts were more likely to overextend themselves and sleep on the job. Jobs aren’t meant to be taken lying down, so pay and benefits shouldn’t be either.
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