Looking at the stats, pedestrian deaths are far too common. They are not an industry problem, they are a society problem. A 2011 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association showed pedestrian fatalities on the rise. Data revealed that three out of four accidents took place in urban areas, and 70% of fatal accidents occurred at night, many of which involved alcohol.
Regardless, licensing, law enforcement, and personal responsibility are seemingly not enough to prevent these senseless deaths. Clearly we need to improve the quality of drivers on the road. So, how to best do this? While some say self-driving cars are the solution, widespread adoption seems too far down the line. More stringent licensing? Improved traffic infrastructure? Higher penalties for lesser infractions as deterrents?
What if there was a system that allowed for real-time ratings and feedback for all drivers on the road? Imagine if each time a passenger experienced a white-knuckling turn or saw someone blow through a stop sign they could send a red flag. Instead of granting licenses for a year or more, drivers who weren’t up to par would have their privileges revoked immediately.
If everyone was subject to these type of ratings there would be far fewer cars on the road, but those that remained would be of consistently higher quality. This is essentially the system that transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft have already implemented. As they gain market share and we do our part in helping monitor drivers, roads could actually become safer for pedestrian and passenger alike.
The question remains: do professional drivers have lower accident rates than the rest of the population? Under the CPUC’s September 2013 ruling, these transportation network companies must conduct background checks and provide training for all drivers. In addition, they are required to obtain a one million dollar commercial liability insurance policy (which exceeds the current requirement for limos), enforce a “zero tolerance” policy on drugs and alcohol, and perform regular vehicle checks.
Despite these assurances, after Uber’s tepid response to the death of Sofia Liu, a firestorm of negative press erupted. In the comments section under articles regarding the incident on PandoDaily and TechCrunch, and on San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim’s Facebook page, residents expressed their condolences and frustrations. (Uber closed comments on their blog.) While many acknowledged that these type of accidents are not unique to Uber, questions were raised about the driver’s competency and the culpability of the company.
While the culpability debate rages on, I think it worth underscoring how we as ridesharers can take part in improving the safety of our roads and communities, no matter which provider you choose. As TNCs take star ratings and feedback very seriously, passengers can help shape driver behavior. By providing timely and detailed accounts of infractions during rides, we can help companies better identify unfit drivers, ensuring that only the trustworthy are behind the wheel. Of course, the onus is on the TNC to respond swiftly and appropriately.
We should also support a culture of safety, not speed. With our impatient, cancel-happy fingers hovering over those empty stars, riders add to the pressure on drivers to make haste. We must resist the urge to ask the driver to put pedal to the metal or express exasperation at slower speeds. After all, technology is only as good as we are.
Author’s note: a memorial fund for Sofia Liu can be found here. All donations will go to funeral expenses and the incurred healthcare costs of her family.
Special thanks to Russel Simmons for discussing the ideas above.
Also, I’ll soon be weighing in on Uber’s culpability vs. community dilemma, drawing upon my experience during “ransackgate” at Airbnb. Follow along here.