Side Note

Uber wants to avoid its largest customer base: drunk people

The ability to reject drunk riders could steer people away using Uber, and toward driving drunk.

The ability to reject drunk riders could steer people away using Uber, and toward driving drunk.

Anyone who’s ever been out on a Saturday night, or just scrolled through the subreddit r/uberdrivers, knows that one of the most widespread problems that Uber drivers face is extremely drunk people throwing up and being generally belligerent in the back of their cars, not to mention historically pretty terrible treatment by their all-but-employers.

As reported by multiple outlets, Uber filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office back in 2016 and issued June 7 for a tool (that still does not exist) which would detect riders that are in an unusual “state.” (In context, “state” is a euphemism for being under the influence.) The tool would then pair potentially drunk passengers with drivers that have the “experience or training” to handle them, or no driver at all.

However, Uber drivers can be notoriously scarce in rural and even certain suburban areas. In these situations, it’s unclear what the protocol would be, or if the driver would have the right to reject a rider entirely based on the fact that they might be drunk. As pointed out by Twitter user @aribody_loveme, one of the most common uses for a drunk passenger taking an Uber is to avoid driving drunk.

The tool, intended to be powered by artificial intelligence, would look for anomalies in not just the rider’s previous routes, but how they request a new route. The tool would consider “data input accuracy, data input speed, interface interaction behavior, device angle, or walking speed.” Read: drunken typos and clumsy walking. While no one should have to deal with a violent or abusive drunk person and it’s possible they should be in jail rather than calling a car, there is a pretty wide gulf for interpretation here. The patent is still just a patent and, as far as we can tell, a ways from actually being implemented.