I’ve been writing for The Rideshare Guy for nearly five years now, and as a driver and writer, I’ve seen and experienced a lot when it comes to Uber. Since doing the Show me the money club (SMTMC) on our YouTube channel, I have come to appreciate the opportunity to meet and talk to wonderful drivers all around the country.
We did two Town Hall meetings on SMTMC about three months ago with 12 amazing drivers, some were pro-Uber and some were tired of how drivers are being treated and voiced their opinions. Unequivocally, the top two issues they brought up were related to earnings and safety. Specifically, how easy it is for passengers to get on the platform without much scrutiny, as well as some of those fake named accounts.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Uber’s Vice President of Product Management Sachin Kansal. The full video is posted on our YouTube channel, take a look below:
Sachin was thrilled to announce some of the new safety tools Uber is rolling out for drivers ONLY! We had a lot of safety features included in the app over the years for passengers, but these new additions are probably the best set of tools drivers could put to good use to feel safer on the road.
Uber’s New Safety Features for Drivers
Reducing left turns
Anyone who drives knows the challenges of making a left turn, especially in a busy city. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 22% of crashes involve a vehicle making a left turn at an intersection.
Uber has now improved the in-app navigation to suggest fewer left turns. With just a few minor adjustments to GPS routing that have little to no impact on trip time, drivers who use Uber’s in-app navigation can enjoy a less stressful driving experience.
As we all know, UPS and Fedex have been routing their trucks and drivers to make mostly right turns without delays in delivering their packages. In fact, studies show that vehicles burn less gas and experience fewer trip delays if left turns were limited. Drivers can still choose to use Google Maps instead of the Uber navigation.
I think this is a good addition to driving safety! Uber tested this algorithm for months, and I was assured that they would not have released it if the trials were not successful.
Partially controlled intersection alerts
According to NHTSA, a quarter of traffic fatalities and about half of all traffic injuries occur at intersections, and in 2018 alone there were more than 6,700 fatalities involving intersections without signals.
When a driver using Uber’s in-app navigation is approaching an intersection without a four-way stop, the app will now highlight this on the map screen with a message reminding them to watch for cross traffic.
This is another great tool, especially driving at night or when visibility is reduced due to weather conditions.
Record My Ride
Audio Recording expansion
Already available to riders and drivers in more than a dozen countries, Uber’s optional in-app Audio Recording feature began piloting last year in three US cities. Uber saw many instances where this technology has helped them determine the best course of action after a safety incident, and the majority of riders and drivers in the pilot cities told Uber that this feature helped them feel safer during a trip.
Based on this response, Uber will expand the Audio Recording pilot to six new US cities (Cincinnati, Nashville, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and Tucson) beginning next month. Drivers will have the option to opt-out, but I think having some proof of a safety incident is better than having none.
The Audio Recording feature is built with privacy in mind. The audio file is encrypted and stored directly on the rider or driver’s device. No one can listen to the audio—including Uber, the rider or the driver—while it remains on the device. If a safety-related incident occurs during a trip, a rider or driver can attach the audio file and other relevant information when sending Uber a safety report. The file will be decrypted and an Uber trained safety agent will review it to help determine what happened faster.
Importantly, the rider or driver decides when to record audio and when to share it with Uber. Please see the Audio Recording information page for more details on this feature, including answers to common questions.
Video recording trial
Since the launch of Audio Recording, Uber has been exploring the ability to allow drivers to choose to record video using the front-facing camera on their smartphone, similar to a dashcam. At RSG, we highly recommend the use of a dashcam for potential safety issues with passengers as well as accidents.
On the other hand, the feature Uber will test is free and can be set up in seconds in Uber’s Driver app. Once enabled, drivers can record video and audio on every trip.
When placed in a phone mount, the front-facing camera has a view of the vehicle’s interior. Uber built this feature on top of their existing Audio Recording technology, it comes with the same privacy protections—so no one, including the driver or Uber can access the recording unless that driver chooses to share it with Uber after a safety incident by attaching the file to the ticket.
Uber will start testing this technology with select drivers in Cincinnati, Louisville, and New York City in the U.S., as well as Santos and João Pessoa, Brazil. Their feedback will shape the future of this feature. As with the Audio Recording, drivers can opt-out.
In-app Safety Tips & Resources
Drivers can encounter challenging moments out on the road. So Uber created new tips, now available in the in-app Learning Center, to help them manage some of the trickiest situations. Uber consulted with experts, police and drivers themselves for advice on how to handle situations—like what to do if a rider falls asleep in the car after a night out or if a rider doesn’t have a car seat for their toddler or an underage minor.
In addition, Uber added a section in the Learning Center dedicated to safety tips from law enforcement that range from helping drivers avoid falling victim to criminals to helping them report potential instances of human trafficking. This content can be tailored to a region in case police in a driver’s city have specific warnings.
Updating Rider Accounts
To help make the Uber platform as accessible as possible and prevent discrimination based on a name, Uber allows riders to update their name in the Uber app. However, as we all have experienced, we have seen some riders use fake names—such as the names of cartoon characters or even offensive language—which can lead to challenging pickups or uncomfortable situations for drivers.
That’s why Uber is conducting a large audit of rider account names and freezing accounts with clearly fake names. These accounts will remain blocked until riders update or validate their account names with Uber support agents. This is something we previously discussed on SMTMC.
I think this will bring relief to a lot of drivers as, personally, I don’t enjoy picking up a passenger named “Killer” at 3 AM.
Uber is also making it easier for drivers to flag fake or inappropriate names. Drivers can go to their apps’ Help section, find the option to report an issue with a rider, and select My Rider had an inappropriate name. Uber’s Support team will then be able to take appropriate action to block those accounts until the names are updated with a valid ID. This will be done by a human, not some AI software.
Additionally, Uber learned from law enforcement and other experts that anonymous payment methods are often linked to bad actors—and they heard from drivers that they wanted more information about who they are picking up. That’s why Uber will require a valid email address, phone number and payment method to open an Uber passenger account from now on.
In 2021, Uber also began asking riders with unverified forms of payment, like prepaid gift cards or Venmo, to upload an ID before they can start requesting trips.
Takeaways for Drivers
I am all for these new safety tolls for drivers. While some may call it intrusive or too “Big Brother”, it only takes one bad incident to change someone’s life forever. I am all for these new safety tools because it levels the playing field.
As the CEO of Uber said during our interview a couple of months ago, putting passengers through a background check is not a possibility. Still, I wish in our selfie-happy society, Uber would implement uploading a government-issued ID as a mandatory requirement for existing or new passengers.
After all, drivers are asked to take a photo of themselves daily and go through background checks. Why can’t riders be held to a higher standard? Passengers know everything about the driver, but the driver does not know much about their passengers other than their rating and where to pick them up.
We are all out there fending for ourselves. Ultimately, set your own safety parameters and guidelines and hope that you will never need to use these new tools Uber is providing.
This is a good start for Driver ONLY features, better late than never!
Drivers, what do you think about these new safety features?
-Sergio @ RSG