App-based rideshare companies are back in the headlines with bad news about drivers with felony records, crimes against passengers, especially solo female passengers, even assaults of drivers by passengers.
While most rides are safe and uneventful, every solo passenger – female or male – should think about his or her personal safety before getting into a vehicle with a stranger.
Here is what you can do to stay safe with any car service, including Uber, Lyft, Via, and other companies, in NYC and anywhere in the world you use an app-based rideshare.
According to Uber’s 2019 safety report, there were 58 fatalities, 3,045 sexual assaults and nine fatal physical assaults reported out of 1.3 billion total rides in the U.S. in 2018.
As a result, Uber initiated new programs like the Industry Sharing Safety Program, which shares information about sexual predators with other ridesharing companies that may otherwise hire these same drivers and delivery people.
Lyft introduced more than 15 new safety features in 2019.
Uber introduced a PIN verification system to help prevent riders from getting in the wrong car. Riders can also call emergency services through the Uber app and use an optional audio recording feature if you feel unsafe.
Recent Rideshare Service Crimes
There have been at least 24 reported attacks, including kidnappings, sexual assaults and robberies, involving people pretending to be drivers for ride-share companies like Uber, according to The New York Times.
An Uber driver has been convicted of raping an intoxicated female passenger he picked up at a casino near Philadelphia.
Fourteen women are suing Lyft over allegedly mishandling their sexual assault, sexual misconduct and rape complaints against drivers that occurred while using its service, bringing renewed attention to the issue of safety in the ride-hail industry.
University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was kidnapped and killed when she got into a car she thought was her Uber ride.
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 saved during the Holocaust.
The bad news headlines have prompted both Uber and Lyft to add new safety features to their apps.
Rideshare Safety Tips
Get in the right car.
Check your ride before you get in.
Uber recommends this on its website: Match the license plate, car make and model, and driver photo with what’s provided in your app.
Uber trips can only be requested through the app, so never get in a car where the vehicle or driver identity doesn’t match what’s displayed in your app.
Local NYC car services such as Dial 7 and Carmel display signs in the rear passenger window, so you can identify at a glance that it is your vehicle. T
Wouldn’t it be nice – so simple, so inexpensive – for app-based Uber and Lyft to do the same?
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 who was murdered got into a stranger’s vehicle – a deadly mistake.
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 trusted friend or relative knows your plans. Or a work colleague, if it is a late-night business trip. That advisory should include anticipated arrival time.
As an additional safety measure, travelers can follow-up with whoever they shared their ride with via text, asking them to call you if late, suggests Security Today.
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.
Tell your driver you’re sharing your trip details with someone. Criminals are less likely to act if they know there’s an increased likelihood of getting caught.
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-based 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 is launching 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.
Note – NYC on the Cheap published this advisory originally in 2018 and we have updated and republished it periodically since.