Uber, the popular ride-hailing app, is testing out a new system to try and prevent drunk passengers harassing its drivers by giving them a child's toy to play with while in the back seat of the car.
Uber drivers in Charlotte, North Carolina, began reporting that they were receiving Bop It, a popular toy from the 1990s, which challenges users to hit, twist or pull certain parts of the toy in increasingly quick succession by issuing instructions via a pre-recorded voice. Uber initially told drivers in the city that the toy was meant to "add something fun and exciting to the ride mix" but it appears that the real reason for putting the toy in the back seat of cars is to combat drunken or abusive passengers.
“An intoxicated rider who is engaged in something interesting is less likely to be irritable and aiming aggression at the driver,” Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer and a veteran of Facebook, PayPal and the U.S. attorney’s office in Northern California, told the Guardian.
The project is part of Uber's ongoing attempts to make its service safer for everyone. On Tuesday, the company announced it is running a pilot program to use the gyroscopes in drivers' smartphones to monitor how fast they are driving.
"If a rider complains that a driver accelerated too fast and broke too hard, we can review that trip using data," Sullivan said in a statement. "If the feedback is accurate, then we can get in touch with the driver." The security chief added that if drivers are found to be moving their smartphones around all the time, they will be offered mounts, while those found to be speeding consistently will be told to "curb your enthusiasm."
Assaults on Uber drivers are nothing new and the internet is littered with videos and accounts of drivers being physically and verbally assaulted by passengers. Just four days ago a Miami doctor was put on administrative leave after a video was published showing her attacking an Uber driver.
The thinking behind putting a version of Bop It in the back seats of cars is to distract intoxicated passengers so they don't even think about attacking the driver.
In a Reddit thread about the project, one Uber driver in Charlotte reports that the Bop It game was stolen from the cars on the first night they had it in the back seat, while others point out that listening to the constant instructions from the game ("Bop it" "Twist it" "Pull it") would quickly become annoying for the driver.
According to the letter Uber sent to drivers in Charlotte, they do have the option of simply not using it. “We don’t anticipate riders abusing or misusing the game, but should you feel uncomfortable with having the Bop It in your car for whatever reason, feel free to remove it from your vehicle. We just ask that if you do decide to remove it that you let us know.”
Elsewhere, an Uber initiative in Seattle suggested drivers install passenger-facing mirrors on the back of the seats as it is thought that people are more likely to behave in a reasonable manner if they can see themselves while intoxicated. "New safety solutions are always in the works, so keep your eyes out for the next new program in your city," the company said in a statement.