Helmet selfies and in-app checklists: Uber Eats praises ‘global first’ features for Australian riders as NSW taskforce examines gig economy safety

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/Getty Images
  • Uber Eats riders are now required to take a selfie while wearing a helmet and check if their bike has a mobile phone holster before they can take gigs through the app.
  • Sachin Kansal, Uber’s senior director of product management, said the world first checks will form part of a rider’s “safety routine every time that they go online.”
  • The new safety checks come after a NSW gig economy taskforce issued draft industry guidelines, calling on the tech companies to play a more active role in rider safety.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Uber has championed two world first features it hopes will improve the safety of Australian delivery riders, as the tech giant faces continued scrutiny from local lawmakers and unions over the protections offered to food deliverers.

On Monday, Uber Australia launched a six-point user checklist, which requires Uber Eats delivery riders to confirm their bike is safe to ride before starting work.

The in-app checklist asks riders to confirm their brakes and tires are in good condition, that reflectors and lights are attached, and to follow relevant road rules.

Uber Australia also rolled out a new helmet detection feature, which requires riders to prove they’re wearing a helmet by taking a selfie in the app.

The Uber app automatically detects if head protection is being worn, allowing riders to get on with their work.

Speaking to Business Insider Australia, Sachin Kansal, Uber’s senior director of product management, said the new features would become part of each rider’s routine “every time that they go online.”

“A lot of delivery people are going to intuitively check for these things, and they will take these precautions,” Kansal said.

“However, we want to add an extra layer of expertise, honestly, on the screen, so that it’s very easy for them to see these as a visual reminder.”

While it is already unlawful for bike riders to use public roads without wearing a helmet, Kansal said the selfie check-in feature would serve as “another reminder for riders to always be careful and to be following the law.”

“We’re really glad that in Australia, [wearing a helmet] is an actual requirement by law,” Kansal added.

“We are taking a position that in case someone is not wearing a helmet at a certain time, that they don’t go online, and they don’t [ride for] Uber.”

Uber Australia says it will soon roll out free safety packages to riders, which will include reflective vests, mobile phone holsters, bike lights and a bell.

The company added that it hopes to offer discounted safety gear to motorcycle and scooter riders delivering food through the app.

Those developments come after the death of five delivery riders on New South Wales roads in late 2020.

The state government’s Gig Economy Joint Taskforce, established to investigate those tragic incidents, released draft safety guidelines last month.

The fresh draft calls for food delivery platforms, including Uber Eats, to advise riders of the need to “carry out regular prestart checks and maintenance,” along with the legal requirement to wear a helmet.

The guidelines also highlight fatigue as a serious risk to delivery riders, pointing to the long hours and significant physical exertion food delivery can entail.

In addition, the guidelines point to “unrealistic estimated delivery times resulting in time pressures and unsafe riding.”

Uber Eats already locks riders out of the app once they reach a cumulative total of 12 hours on the road without an eight-hour break between stints.

“We regularly partner with experts, with the industry, with regulators,” Kansal said, “and we want to make sure that we are participating in that dialogue, especially when it comes to road safety.”

“Safety has been a top priority for us for years, including road safety,” he added.

The Taskforce’s final report and recommendations are slated to arrive next month.

As Uber prepares for those findings, advocates for riders say the company’s safety updates are welcome, but skirt around deeper safety issues embedded in the gig economy.

Uber’s “small improvements to safety” are the result of riders and their families pushing for better working conditions, Transport Workers Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine said on Monday.

“This move, which follows the NSW Taskforce’s limp guidelines shows that when government attitudes fail to address the core safety implications of exploitation, food delivery companies will make bare minimum changes for some good PR, while continuing to rip off workers and put them in danger,” he said.

The TWU argues riders would be better protected on the road if they received the same workplace entitlements as full employees — which Uber has steadfastly avoided.