App-driven ride-sharing programs could be hazardous to the financial health of Iowans if there's an accident or a claim, according to a recent consumer alert issued by Iowa's insurance commissioner.


The Iowa Insurance Division is cautioning Iowans who may be considering signing up to drive for Uber or other smartphone-driven services that connect drivers, riders and vehicle owners for car-sharing and ride-sharing that they may not be covered if their vehicle is damaged or someone is hurt.


Uber, whose ride-sharing program is rapidly expanding throughout major cities globally, recently began advertising for drivers in Des Moines, but has not yet set any firm date for launching in the state.


In a similar vein, Iowa Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart cautions that vacation home-sharing programs such as VRBO and Airbnb could lead to devastating financial losses as well.


"Innovative new uses for technology to make our lives easier are leading to some terrific ideas," Gerhart said in the consumer alert. "Programs such as Uber, Lyft, VRBO and Airbnb may offer consumers great service and convenience, but as a regulator, I want potential providers and users to be aware of the very real problems they could face without knowing about these restrictions."


The Iowa Insurance Division recommends that property or vehicle owners considering earning income through any of these services should always check with their insurance company or agent in order to avoid devastating financial losses due to non-covered claims.


According to Uber's website, the company offers $1 million in coverage "from the moment a driver accepts a trip to its conclusion." Uber's commercial coverage is primary to any personal auto coverage, but will not take precedence over any commercial auto insurance for the vehicle, it said.


In Pennsylvania, where state regulators are currently reviewing requests by Uber and Lyft to operate, the applications on file fall short of protecting drivers and others who may be involved in an accident, according to an opinion piece by Samuel Marshall, president and CEO of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania.


"They either don't offer to provide coverage or would provide it only if and after a driver's personal auto insurer declines coverage," Marshall wrote. "That's going to happen, because personal auto insurers generally don't cover a car and its driver when they become a cab and cabbie. But Lyft and Uber would force consumers to go through that needless and expensive step before they'll think of providing coverage."