A Safer Route Home, but Is the Customer Always Right?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Depending on who you ask, Uber is either a godsend or a harbinger of civilization’s downfall. When the ride-hailing app went live in my corner of the world, disgruntled taxi drivers threatened violence against Uber drivers found waiting for a fare. I still get in the front seat out of habit. Cab drivers in other cities weren’t happy about their monopoly being threatened, either.

Elsewhere, Uber is a common way for urbanites to get around and, despite a number of past controversies involving the company and its drivers, people seem just fine with its presence. Naturally, for some users, safety remains an issue. But what if you could choose not only the route taken, but also the make and model of the vehicle showing up at your door? If the thought of riding in an old beater turns you off, why not wait until the closest vehicle with a five-star safety rating shows up? A new patent filing shows Uber wants to make that happen.

The patent application, discovered by CNET, carries the title “Safe Routing for Navigation Systems.” In it, the application describes a system where user preference and safety data from a variety of sources sends the Uber user on the safety possible trip to their intended destination.

Accident and crime data could be taken into account when mapping out the intended route, as well as the pickup and dropoff location. If certain stretches of roadway have seen more than their fair share of incidents, or if a neighborhood is known to be less safe than others, the route would bypass these supposed danger zones. The patent makes mention of weather and “inter-personal conflicts with other drivers” as other possible reasons for avoiding an area. As well, the make and model of the Uber driver’s car could also factor in.

The old saying “The customer’s always right” could apply here, as why shouldn’t a paying passenger have it their way? If the trip’s a little longer because of the route changes, all the better for the driver, right? Well, some might not see it that way.

If implemented, the system could see neighborhoods with higher crime rates suddenly become underserved and further stigmatized. And how does the low-income Uber driver in a 10-year-old sedan that, while clean, isn’t known for its stellar crash performance feel about losing fares while the moonlighting driver of a 2017 Civic or RAV4 picks up all the cash? There’s downsides to everything.

However, as this is just a patent application, it’s quite possible the system might not find its way into the company’s fleet. (Which, in some cases, might make nervous passengers less likely to use Uber. Again with the downsides.)

[Image: Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures/ Flickr]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • El scotto El scotto on Jul 08, 2018

    Oh, they're trying to actually make an "Avoid Ghetto" route?

  • Felix Hoenikker Felix Hoenikker on Jul 08, 2018

    The way I understood the article is that the rider would be able to request a driver without an extensive criminal record or at least not recent assaults against Uber passengers. From the headlines about assaults on passengers by Uber drivers over the past few years, I'm not sure that Uber can do this yet.

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