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Uber’s app will beep until you buckle your seatbelt

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Modifying behavior through annoying chimes

Uber and Lyft sign in windshield of car, Queens, New York Photo by: Lindsey Nicholson/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Uber has no qualms about annoying its customers to pressure them to do something. The latest example is a new feature that will emit a series of chimes until passengers buckle their seatbelts.

Previously, Uber drivers would rely on signage to encourage passengers to secure their seatbelts. (Google “Uber seatbelt sign,” and you’ll see plenty of examples.) Now the company wants to cut out the middle man and just use a beeping noise to get the job done.

It’s a fairly simple approach: the driver’s app will issue a series of beeps, while the rider’s app will send push notifications reminding them to buckle up. Most vehicles in the US have seatbelt reminders built-in, but that does not typically cover rear-seat passengers. The app notifications are meant to serve as a workaround.

“Buckling up is one of the most effective ways to help keep yourself and others in the vehicle safe in a crash. By leveraging technology to remind riders to buckle up, we hope to increase seatbelt use and potentially save lives,” said Kristin Smith, Uber’s head of global road safety policy, in a statement.

Nationally, the number of deaths on US roads is rising at an alarming rate. Although fewer people were on the road at the beginning of the pandemic, about 38,680 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, an increase of about 2,500 from 2019, and deaths surged further in the first half of 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Obviously, not wearing your seatbelt increases your risk of dying during a crash. Of the 22,215 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2019, 47 percent were not wearing seat belts, NHTSA says. According to the agency, seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives and could have saved an additional 2,549 people if they had been wearing seat belts in 2017 alone.

To be sure, studies have shown that the popularity of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft has led to a 3 percent increase in fatal car crashes. Uber vehicles were involved in 97 fatal crashes between 2017 and 2018, according to a University of Chicago study. Those crashes led to 107 total deaths. (Uber’s own data reveals that 58 people died in auto-related crashes during a period covering half of 2017 and all of 2018.)

It seems ridiculous that we need audible chimes and push notifications to remind us to wear seatbelts in the year 2022, but Uber is probably smart not to underestimate the stupidity of some of its customers. Either way, wear your freaking seatbelts.