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While the company already tracks drivers for navigation purposes, new pilot makes safety its goal
Five months ago, Uber announced a pilot program where it would use the gyroscopes in each of its drivers’ smartphones to detect various metrics about the driving experience, including how often the vehicle starts and stops as well as overall speed. The company said it would use the data in order to verify complaints from riders about drivers whose rides were either unpleasant (due to jerkily starting and stopping) or downright unsafe (due to excessive speeding).
Today, Uber is doubling down on these initiatives.
In partnership with the Governor's Highway Safety Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Uber announced additional safety pilot programs developed by its engineers specifically to help predict and prevent dangerous driving.
Employing telematics-based engineering, Uber’s technology is able to sort out all sorts of information simply by tracking the GPS receivers on its driver’s phones. One of the most obvious features that will be included in the upcoming pilot is a speed display in the app that alerts drivers when they hit high speeds.
On a more ongoing basis, Uber will now offer daily reports to its drivers analyzing their driving patterns compared to other drivers in the same city, along with suggestions for improvement. Other new features introduced in the pilot are decidedly more lo-fi, like notifications to take a break (when drivers are tired) and reminders that it's safer to mount the phone on the dashboard than holding the phone in one’s hands.
The pilot program will be rolling out to drivers in 11 U.S. cities in the coming weeks, though Uber says more will be added soon.
Uber says it’s hoping to address what road safety experts call the “four D’s”: drunk, drugged, distracted, and drowsy driving. In a co-written statement, MADD's national president Colleen Sheehey-Church and Uber’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan said:
“We believe that technologies like Uber provide an incredible opportunity to improve road safety in new and innovative ways—before, during and after every ride. Today too many people are hurt or killed on the roads. While alcohol is the leading cause of traffic crashes, there are other behaviors that can put people at risk—for instance if drivers are on drugs, haven’t gotten enough sleep or are distracted.”
The ride-hailing company is very eager to point out that the proliferation of its technology has helped reduce the number of drunk driving incidents. In Atlanta, for example, the police department shared data that DUI arrests fell 32 percent between 2010 and 2015—precisely the same time period when Uber was rapidly expanding throughout the country. (Uber launched in Atlanta in late 2012.)
Of course, as with any Uber announcement, it's not all gravy.
While there may be something to the above correlation, there’s the possibility that Uber’s new pilot program raises privacy concerns since it collects data directly from drivers’ smartphones. While such concerns would likely be nonexistent for a company with full-time employees, the line looks a little more fuzzy in the contractual relationship between Uber and its drivers.
For this reason, it will be interesting to see if Uber’s driver tracking technology can be used against it in any of its ongoing legal battles.
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Uber is a ridesharing service headquartered in San Francisco, United States, which operates in multiple international cities. The company uses a smartphone application to arrange rides between riders and drivers.