Uber pilots dashcams, panic buttons in SA

Cape Town - Internet ride-sharing app Uber is undergoing a dashcam pilot in Cape Town amid the service experiencing recent safety concerns.

Update: Uber says it has been running the dashcam pilot since May this year.

The digital cameras record what is happening in front of the Uber cars on the road as well as inside vehicles where riders and drivers sit, Uber Africa spokesperson Samantha Allenberg told Fin24.

The dashcams have been placed in a select number of participating driver-partners' cars in Cape Town and form part of a four week pilot, said Allenberg.

“The purpose of these dash camera's is to provide riders and drivers with a sense of security knowing that if they are involved in an incident or accident that the event was recorded,” Allenberg told Fin24.

“Riders will be notified about the AV [audio visual] monitoring pilot when a driver accepts their request. They [riders] can choose to decline the ride if they do not agree to the recording,” Allenberg added.

Panic buttons

Meanwhile, Uber is further piloting panic or ‘SOS’ button technology in its cars in Johannesburg.

“During the pilot, SOS buttons will be installed into select partner vehicles and linked to Uber’s central security system,” Allenberg told Fin24.

“The security team will monitor the devices 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This update will allow driver-partners to receive situation advice and/or emergency services dispatch in a critical situation.

“Should the pilot prove useful this feature could be introduced to the other cities across South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Allenberg.

Uber asks passengers for their permission to video record rides. (Pic: Matthew le Cordeur, Fin24)

A dashcam in an Uber Cape Town car. (Pic: Matthew le Cordeur, Fin24)

Have you taken a ride in an Uber with a dashcam? What do you think about this technology? Tell us by clicking here.

Security concerns

The introduction of dashcam and panic button pilots come amid recent incidents of crime surrounding the Uber service.

In July, News24 reported that a woman was attacked and raped after getting into what she thought was an Uber taxi in Fourways, Johannesburg. A case of rape, kidnapping and robbery was opened afterwards.

In August, it was reported that a couple was attacked after ordering an Uber ride home via the service's mobile app from the Movida nightclub in Sunninghill in the early morning hours.

Earlier this month, a man accused of kidnapping, raping, and robbing an Uber commuter appeared in the Randburg Magistrate's Court.

But Allenberg said that the introduction of dashcam and panic button pilots is not a direct response to these incidents.

“We are deeply committed to the safety of everyone who uses Uber and that is why we are constantly developing new technologies to ensure safety before, during, and after every ride,” Allenberg told Fin24.

“These pilot are just two examples of the ways we are looking to connect riders and drivers to safe, reliable rides,” Allenberg said.

On Wednesday, Uber also announced the appointment of a new head of security for Africa in the form of Deon Du Toit.

Du Toit has joined Uber Africa from the De Beers Group where he worked as head of global interventions and investigations.

At De Beers, Du Toit was responsible for “combatting global illegal diamond trade and managing the protection of partners and staff”, said Uber.

Uber also announced updates to its app that are intended to boost driver and rider security.

Apart from displaying a driver image, vehicle type and licence plate in the app, riders across South Africa will also soon see the colour of the vehicle.

Uber said that these updates form part of a “phased roll out" and not everyone will see these updates "right away”.

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