Uber releases new driver safety features, including video recording test

By Jessica Bursztynsky

Uber announced a handful of new driver safety releases on Thursday in an effort to assuage workers’ concerns about safety on the gig platform.

 

The company is testing video recording within its drivers’ app, which would stop workers form having to pay and install costly dashboard cameras on their own dime.

“Talking to drivers all around the world, one consistent theme was that they want easier access to dashcams, which can hold everyone accountable and give drivers peace of mind,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

[GIF: Uber]

A select group of drivers in New York City, Cincinnati, Louisville, and two cities in Bazil—Santos and João Pessoa—will have the option to test the video feature. The feature will start recording as the driver pulls up near the pickup stop, record via the front-facing camera through the ride, and stop recording once the trip is complete. Uber drivers have long installed dashboard cameras and other devices to monitor their physical and vehicle safety as they transport strangers. But oftentimes, these devices run for more than $100. 

 

 

“We always thought that there was promise here in terms of presenting a kind of free, scalable option for drivers that they could not actually have to install or pay for a dashcam, because not everyone wants to install extra hardware in their vehicle. And we felt that this was a pretty cool way to give them access to that,” says Rebecca Payne, who leads Uber’s personal safety products. 

The recorded video will be encrypted on the driver’s phone and can’t be accessed by Uber unless the person files an incident report. The driver is also unable to go back and play the video. After seven days, Uber said, the file will be deleted. 

[GIF: Uber]

The company has already been tooling with an audio-only recording feature. The audio feature will be expanded to drivers and riders in six additional U.S. cities (Cincinnati, Nashville, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonia, and Tucson). The clips are also encrypted and stored directly on the user’s device. If a safety-related incident occurs, the person filing can attach the audio file with the safety report if they choose to do so. 

 

“We’ve seen many instances where this technology has helped us determine the best course of action after a safety incident,” Sachin Kansal added in a blog post announcing the news. 

Uber will also crack down on fake rider names. The company plans to audit customer names for any obviously fake or offensive language. Uber drivers can also start flagging riders for having inappropriate or fake names. After the rider is flagged, the company will put the user’s account on hold until the name is updated and the company reviews the matter. (Uber stresses it will be a human doing this review, not a machine.) 

Uber says it’s spent the past summer getting feedback from drivers on features they’d like to be implemented. In July, the company announced it would roll out a number of highly requested product features, including upfront fares and destination requests ahead of time. Those updates have been incredibly popular among drivers, Kansal said. “It just gives them the ultimate flexibility.”

 

Features are also aimed at keeping drivers safe on the road. Uber will start reducing the number of left turns drivers make, hoping it will cut down on traffic incidents. The algorithm will start prompting drivers to take alternate routes with fewer left turns that have little to no impact on the trip length. U.S. drivers will also start getting intersection alerts to be cautious when they come up on “uncontrolled intersections,” which have no stop lights or four-way stops. 

[GIF: Uber]

The road safety features follow an uptick in traffic accidents reported by the company, according to its 2019-2020 safety report released in June. Uber reported 101 motor vehicle fatalities across its platform during that time period, a slight increase from the 2017-2018 period. The increase follows with a national uptick, but Uber executives are hoping the updates will cut down the number of reports. Uber also reported 3,824 reports of what it classifies as the five most severe categories of sexual assault, which range from “nonconsensual kissing of a nonsexual body part” to rape.

Thursday’s safety announcement comes just before the company is expected to report its third quarter financial results next week.

Fast Company

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