A former Uber employee who worked as a safety driver for the company’s autonomous vehicle program is claiming that he was denied bathroom breaks a month before he was fired from his position. Ryan Kelly says that this happened in late 2017 and that it was a very stressful month for him and the rest of the team handling the autonomous vehicles. Drivers were under intense pressure to log as many test miles as possible without any regard to their welfare.
The former Uber employee says that stopping a car during a test drive even for a bathroom break was problematic since the vehicle had to reboot before it could start all over again. This took almost an hour. Eventually, this would decrease the number of test miles and Uber couldn’t accept this. Kelley added that the ride-hailing company made it clear that drivers “should probably hold it” until all test miles had been logged.
The software that Uber used for the autonomous cars was also prone to aggressive breaking at one point during the tests. Kelley says that this would leave his vision blurred and his stomach upset. The breaking slammed his head against the headrest constantly leading to headaches and extreme fatigue after each test run. These conditions were communicated to supervisors but Kelley says that the person in charge of safety at the company shrugged them off saying that they were “faking them.” Uber denied all this.
But later on, Kelley was diagnosed with a mild concussion after leaving work, symptoms that may indicate a low-speed car accident. The former Uber employee felt that he needed to do something and as such he brought in the test results to the human resource department with the hope that the issue would be resolved. Barely a month later, he was fired from the company. According to the human resource department, Kelley let the car roll through a stop sign on January 3rd this year and failed to report it. However, Kelley noted that this in fact never happened. His attempts to seek video evidence from Uber with regards to the incident also failed to materialize after the ride-hailing company deliberately withheld this information.
Uber noted though that a few days later Kelley admitted to the mistake and also apologized but his removal from the company had already been finalized. Despite this, the former safety driver believes that this wouldn’t normally be a big enough reason to get fired. He says that the reason why he was let go was because of his incessant effort to try to shed light on the difficult working conditions for him and his colleagues.
A statement that was released by Uber regarding the issue noted that indeed the company had made a few “missteps” in the past. But since the fateful accident that killed a woman in Arizona, Uber has tried to change things for the better. However, the statement didn’t state specifically what these “missteps” were and whether they were related to the complaints raised by Kelley. Despite this, Uber has already been authorized to resume testing for self-driving cars after halting these operations for the last nine months or so.