And dozens of women are suing Lyft, claiming they had been sexually assauted during rides.
Here is how to stay safe with any car service, including Uber, Lyft, Via, especially solo female passengers and anyone traveing late at night.
Car Service Safety Tips
In addition to the sexual assaults, kidnappings and robberies, the first-ever safety report by Uber says it has deactivated 40,000 drivers in the US after they failed automated checks for driving history and criminal records.
The report does not include overseas operations (Uber operates in 65 countries). There have been reports of sexual assaults, rapes and even murders of solo women passengers in countries including India, Brazil and China.
To be fair, Uber also reported that there were nearly as many murders of drivers as there were murders of passengers.
Also this week, 19 women joined a lawsuit against Lyft, saying they had been sexually assaulted during rides arranged by the company.
Earlier in 2019, the NY Times reported at least 24 attacks, including kidnappings, sexual assaults and robberies, in NYC involving people pretending to be drivers for ride-share companies like Uber, according to The New York Times.
And there was the awful story of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson who was kidnapped and killed when she got into a car she thought was her Uber ride.
And the report that an Uber driver took a family to the airport in California, and then police say he drove back to the home, which was ransacked.
It was an Airbnb rental, whose owner told KGO TV in San Francisco that the Uber driver spent four hours ransacking the home and was seen on surveillance video taking bag after bag of valuables — including heirlooms her grandmother had manage to save during the Holocaust.
Do not ask “are you my driver”. Anybody driving a dark-colored sedan or SUV could just say “yes”, which is likely how the college student got into a stranger’s vehicle – a deadly mistake.
Instead, ask “who are you picking up”, or “what’s my name”. If the driver does not say your name, don’t get in.
Check the license plate to compare it with the confirmation you received.
Uber also recommends that you check that the driver photo and driver name match what’s listed on your ride confirmation.
Be a backseat driver.
Sit in the backseat, not up front. This ensures you can exit safely on either side of the vehicle to avoid moving traffic, and it gives you two choices in case you feel threatened.
Share your trip details.
If you are traveling alone, especially late at night or if you are going to an unfamiliar location – or both – make sure a friend or relative knows your plans.
Uber has a “Share status” feature in its app to share your driver’s name, photo, license plate, and location with a friend or family member.
They can track your trip and see your ETA without downloading the Uber app, and recognize when there is a problem, such as the Uber driver who allegedly drove a solo woman to another state where he assaulted her and dumped her on the side of the road.
Do not share personal information with the driver.
There’s no need to share your phone number or other contact information with your driver. If a rider and driver need to contact each other, ride share apps automatically anonymize both phone numbers to protect everyone’s privacy.
Trust your instincts.
If you ever feel threatened or that you are in an emergency situation, call 911 immediately, whether you are in an app-baserd ride share vehicle or in a licensed taxi.
Lyft maintains a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy for Lyft drivers. To report suspicions of intoxicant use by a Lyft driver, contact the Critical Response Line through the app.
Set up a Trusted Contacts feature to prompt you to select up to five friends or family members with whom you can share your whereabouts for every ride.
There is also an in-app emergency button that connects you directly to 911, and a Ride Check feature that tracks trip irregularities and notifies Uber .
Uber launched a public service campaign, Check Your Ride, to educate riders how to identify their ride, and avoid the deadly mistake that Uber passenger Samantha Josephson made.
Via cars send text messages to passengers just before pickup, and passengers can text that same phone number for immediate responses during emergencies. (This can be easier than opening the app and emailing its help center.)
Via has support staff across time zones and continents to provide help in real time at any time.
As with Uber, the Via team monitors drivers’ routes, triggering and sending alerts to the support staff when the cars deviate off course.
Before Lyft rides begin, passengers receive a photo of the driver, the car make and model, and the license plate, all inside the app.
Once the ride begins, travelers can share the route and estimated time of arrival with others by tapping Send ETA.
The Critical Response Line, accessible through the app 24/7, is the fastest way to get a trained expert on the phone.
If you have had ad an uncomfortable experience in a ride-sharing service or taxi in New York City that you want to share?
How did you handle it?
Add a comment below.
This article was published first in 2018 and is updated and re-published whenever there is a news headline regarding car service safety.
I’m also the author of several NYC and Hudson Valley guidebooks, including my latest, 100 Things to Do in NYC Before You Die.