If you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding in a taxi through metropolitan rush hour traffic, then Uber’s new driver tracking software may give you cause to smile…or at least breathe a sigh of relief. The ride-hailing service has faced harsh criticism–and has even had cities block the service due to safety concerns–over the years for everything from invasion of privacy to physical assaults by drivers, but one of the most common complaints about using the service is about driving behavior.
A new feature of Uber’s app may change all that. Launched in a testing phase today, the app that all Uber drivers rely on to pick up new fares and track their physical locations via GPS will now monitor things like slamming on the brakes, speeding, and even whether or not the driver was holding his phone while in motion. The same gyroscopic technology that lets smartphone users play a motion-based game on their phones will report back to headquarters about these issues and more.
Even more interesting is what Uber will do with that information. For now, there are no penalties or rewards based on the data, but Uber drivers will receive emailed warnings about dangerous behaviors. At the same time, Uber passengers will receive instant messages, asking them if the sensor information is correct, as in, “Is your driver using his phone right now?”
The testing phase has been rolled out in a few major cities, on about half the Uber drivers’ phones in those cities. The company will use the data and other feedback to decide what changes to make and whether or not it’s effective to implement this on a larger scale. One much-anticipated outcome would be for this to serve as proof to concerned city councils and transportation departments that Uber can be trusted to run a safe program, given that its contracted drivers aren’t actually employees and aren’t held to labor restrictions. This announcement comes on the heels of Uber’s television commercial campaign, touting the benefits of “easy money” to be made as a driver.