According to NPR, Uber's variable pay rates to drivers create uncertainty in drivers about whether or not they'll meet their earning goals for the day. This gets Uber drivers to keep driving, for 12- or even 20 hours at a time.
Why the long driving shifts?
Uber's pay system combines the two most powerful behaviour reinforcement tools -- variable interval and variable ratio reward schedules. This is behaviourism at work, and it keeps drivers on the road longer. A 15 or so hour shift of driving, especially during the wee hours of the morning, is tiring and can create safety risks. Some research shows that drowsy driving while can be as dangerous as drinking and driving. Car accidents are dangerous and 20% of crashes are related to sleepiness according to international data. In the United States alone, drowsiness or fatigue was a cause of 56,000 crashes each year (NCSDR/NHTSA Expert Panel on Driver Fatigue and Sleepiness, 1998).
If you ride with Uber, drive with Uber, or live where Uber is available, then this is a potential threat to your safety.
Work design to the rescue!
The good news is that by doing some work re-design, we can minimize safety hazards. From a work design perspective we can look at the job characteristics of Uber drivers, and adjust those to incentivize safe behaviors.
Your brain gets fatigued after x hours driving
What does brain fatigue mean?
People themselves experience fatigue and performance (ability to drive safely) falls off before people are aware of it.
Better work design for Uber:
Task feedback - provide information in the Uber app that drivers use in order to provide more predictability to drivers who can then plan their shifts and shorten their driving time (Currently, uncertainty about their payout is motivating them to stay on the road longer).
Physical demands - limit the duration of driver's shifts based on time of day and ongoing measures of the vehicle (e.g., lane departures), of the driver (e.g., EEG alpha and theta wave measures, and more practically possible: eye blink duration checks periodically through drivers' smart phones)
Performance-based compensation - Reward safe practices of drivers by offering bonuses to people who break up their shifts with naps, or other breaks to restore their physical alertness. Those bonuses can go beyond money to leverage algorithms to provide safer drivers with: a) improved access to passenger requests, and b) insider tips about where the most passenger requests are likely to be in a certain time block due to special events in a particular area.
These are a sample of a few solutions that work design offers to rectify this potentially dangerous situation and turn it into an opportunity for Uber executives, drivers, and riders to use work design to get us all from A to B, safely.