Uber will begin reminding riders to wear seat belts when using its ride-hailing service, regardless of whether the passenger is sitting in front or back of the vehicle, company officials said.
The company will also use its app to ask drivers to pause after picking up passengers to allow them to buckle up before proceeding. The new notice is intended to give a nudge about using seat belts without being intrusive.
Uber has partnered with a national safety organization to begin sending reminders to drivers and riders to use seat belts when travelling with the ride-hailing service. The campaign - in partnership with the Governors Highway Safety Association - hopes to encourage people to wear seatbelts regardless of where they're sitting in the vehicle.
Company officials said the new campaign - part of a team effort with a national safety organization - is also intended to shift the broader culture's view on wearing seat belts in the back seat of a vehicle. It's also part of a multi-front effort by Uber's new chief executive to revamp the company's image that includes an emphasis on rider safety.
Whether the new reminder will also prompt drivers to break that unseen barrier that generally prevents the chauffeur from urging his passengers to wear a seatbelt is anyone's guess. But Uber, along with the Governors Highway Safety Association, wants to try.
"We're creating a culture where people feel empowered to make the right choice or to remind others around them to do the right thing," said Nadia Anderson, Uber's manager for public policy on road and traffic safety. "We want to create a new social norm."
Studies show that seat-belt compliance in the United States is generally high for drivers and front-seat passengers but lower for back-seat occupants. A 2017 survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that four out of five adults don't always buckle up when riding in a taxi or using a ride-hailing service.
Jonathan Adkins, the GHSA's executive director, said people often have the misconception that they're safe in the back seat, despite research showing that riding without a seat belt in the back seat poses a danger not only to them but to drivers and front-seat passengers.
Even Uber's new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, admitted to being a slacker about back-seat restraints in ride-hailing vehicles - at least until he was interviewing for Uber's top job. In an interview with The Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler, Khosrowshahi said he discovered that his passenger rating with Uber wasn't what it should be because he hadn't been wearing seat belts in the back of a vehicle and it made drivers feel unsafe.
"Though the data is clear that buckling up in the back seat vastly increases the safety of everyone in the vehicle, many people aren't receiving this message," Adkins said in an email. "This campaign allows us to leverage technology and meet Uber's millions of users where they are - on their phones."
Even more effective would be tougher state laws, he said.
Only 18 states and the District of Columbia require adults to wear seat belts in the back seat and also give law enforcement the power to make traffic stops based on that violation alone - a practice known as primary enforcement. Ten other states require back-seat passengers to wear seat belts but enforcement is secondary - which means law enforcement must have another reason to pull a vehicle over.
But for now, Adkins said he hopes the new campaign will save lives, particularly because of the large - and generally young - audience it will reach.
"Everyone seems to be using ride-share," he said.
© The Washington Post 2018