Under Finnish law, it is illegal to operate a taxi service without a taxi license. As a result, police have been fining and filing criminal charges against motorists found taking payments for rides through the smartphone-based chauffeur service Uber. Such motorists may also run into trouble with their insurance companies.
Few such drivers inform their insurance companies of the change in their vehicle's function. Insurance firms are unable to say whether any of their clients are Uber drivers or not.
"This is information we need, because when it comes to transportation that is done professionally, there are increased risks involved," says Henna Saarelainen from the LähiTapiola insurance company. "We receive a fair share of queries relating to Uber, but practically no notifications of changed circumstances."
Saarelainen says the practice constitutes a clear violation of official rules.
"We always look into accidents or similar situations case-by-case, if it emerges that the driver of a car in an accident had not informed us of the changed function," she says – implying that insurance customers found to have misrepresented their vehicle use may find their policies do not cover damages.
Very few accidents
The regional manager for Uber Finland, Joel Järvinen, says that Uber driving cannot be directly compared to professional transportation.
"Most Uber drivers only spend about 10 hours a week giving people rides, or less," Järvinen says.
Järvinen says he also hopes that in future insurance companies would provide Uber drivers with better insurance packages, to encourage an uptick in registered drivers using the app.
All vehicles that are used for Uber rides are insured in the usual way with a motor vehicle insurance policy and with additional liability insurance, which safeguards drivers against circumstances where his or her own policy is unable to cover possible damages.
No serious Uber traffic accidents have occurred in Helsinki in the last two years; only isolated minor collisions have been reported.
"We take safety very seriously, and the feedback function in the application ensures that we receive information on situations arising during transportation. The feedback has mostly been positive," Järvinen says.
Motor Insurers' Centre: Client coverage absolute
Claims manager Antti Tuulensuu from the Finnish Motor Insurers' Centre (FMIC) says that anyone injured during an Uber ride can contact the vehicle's insurance company in the usual way.
"Clients do not have to rely on the Uber application. All they need is the license plate number and the contact information of the insurance company," Tuulensuu says.
No uniform guidelines for Uber insurance policies are being drafted at the FMIC.
"The compensation coverage is well-organised and absolute. Clients will not be affected by agreement-related troubles between the driver and their insurance company," Tuulensuu says.