In March 2019, Samantha Josephson got into a car without confirming it was the Uber she had called for. Her body was found in the wee hours of the morning around 65 miles away. In Sacramento, where I drive for Uber, two different women picked up the same passenger who masturbated in their back seat. These incidences are just a small sampling of sexual harassment and assault that both rideshare drivers and riders may experience.
It seems that every week, there is a news report about sexual abuse and harassment in an Uber or Lyft. We also see commercials on television from lawyers advertising for anyone who has been sexually abused or assaulted in an Uber to call them. The ads often target riders who believe they were sexually abused by an Uber driver while they were drunk. These instances indicate there is a real problem with sexual abuse and assault in the rideshare business.
Sexual harassment has been an issue in our community with rideshare drivers and passengers being victims of both actual and imagined accusations of abuse. In the past, there were very few opportunities for a rideshare driver to protect themselves. But the recent firing of former Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick for not addressing allegations of sexual harassment has brought this issue to light.
The new CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, has addressed the issue of sexual harassment by implementing changes including better background checks for drivers and an integrated 911 button in the driver’s app.
While these company-wide measures are a step in the right direction, rideshare drivers and passengers still need to be proactive in keeping themselves safe while using rideshare services.
Safety Tips for Rideshare Drivers
As Uber drivers, a dash cam is one of the things you should have in your car. It could protect you from a lot of potential dangers.
If people know they are being recorded, they tend to be on their best behavior. A dash-cam has the added benefit of protecting the driver who may be afraid of offending an inappropriate passenger, resulting in retaliation against them. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of passengers filing false reports or giving drivers a one-star rating to cover their own bad behavior.
Another way to keep yourself safe is where you let your passengers sit. Everybody should have a plan on how to keep themselves safe based on passenger seating placement.
View this post on Instagram
Most rideshare drivers prefer their passengers to sit in the back behind the passenger seat. This puts the most distance between the driver and passenger, making an assault attempt more difficult. Some drivers prefer an intoxicated passenger to sit in the front passenger seat where they can keep a closer eye on them. Whichever seating position you prefer, always have a plan in mind.
Listen to Your Gut
It goes without saying that as an Uber driver, you are on the road to make money. But there are times when your common sense and gut feeling should override your desire to make a few extra bucks. Do you really feel comfortable driving in a known drug-infested-gang-neighborhood at 1 a.m. to pick up a passenger from a party?
Share Your Location
Your Uber driver app has a feature that allows you to share with your loved ones your location at all times when you’re on a shift. This allows a friend or family member to see where you are. Should anything bad happen while you’re driving, they can easily call authorities. Always let someone know when you intend to start driving and end driving. For example, if you want to drive between 9 p.m. and midnight and aren’t home by 1 a.m., this could prompt a search for you in case you’re in trouble.
End the Ride
As rideshare drivers, we are not employees but are independent contractors. This gives us a little more power to end a trip in mid-ride if someone is making us uncomfortable. If a passenger is being inappropriate or is making you feel unsafe, it might be best to end the trip. Do not hesitate to listen to your gut.
Check Passenger Ratings
When you get a ping for a ride, don’t forget to check out the passenger star rating. Ratings of 3 stars or under should act as a red flag and you might consider not accepting them as passengers. Also, be wary of passengers who have a perfect 5-star rating. A perfect rating is like having no rating at all as it tells you the passenger is new to Uber and does not have a track record.
While Uber’s terms of service do not allow us to carry a weapon, a small canister of pepper spray within your reach is a good idea.
If you have been assaulted or your passenger refuses to get out of your car, don’t hesitate to call 911. Do not call Uber Customer Service as a first step. They will not have the ability to help you in case of an emergency.
Most importantly, be very aware of your situation. If you find yourself stuck with a passenger who is insulting, rude and/or drunk, you don’t want to escalate things by arguing with them. Keep your cool and try to defuse the situation. Sometimes, a kind but firm word is all it takes to calm the situation down. The old children’s saying about “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” can come in handy.
Safety Tips for Rideshare Passengers
Rideshare passengers also have several safety features available to them. As with the driver, the dash cam keeps everyone on their best behavior.
Choose Your Seat Wisely
Another safety tactic is to choose seat wisely. Most of the time, one might think the back seat is the safest place but keep in mind, child-safety locks can turn you into a prisoner. Sometimes, a front seat might be a safer choice even though you are closer to the driver.
Another danger is the topics of conversation. If it gets too personal or too flirty, do not hesitate to ask to end the ride early and ask to be let off at the next public area. If you believe you are truly in danger, dial 911. Always be aware of your surroundings and general location to help authorities find you.
Get in the Right Car
This is the most important thing you can do as a passenger. It is imperative to confirm you are getting into the Uber car your app has assigned you. Compare the license plate number, confirm the name of the driver, and make sure the driver matches the photo on your app.
Remember, there is safety in numbers. If an Uber pool is available, utilize this for added safety. It gives you the option of sharing the Uber with other people going in the same direction as you.
Pay Attention to Star Ratings
Don’t forget to look at the driver’s star rating. Rideshare drivers are de-activated if they have less than a 4.6-star rating. You may want to reconsider accepting a ride with a driver whose star ratings hover around this area.
Even using all these safety measures for both drivers and passengers, what should you do if the worse happens? The first thing is to get yourself to a safe place and dial 911. Do not hesitate to press charges. Once you are safe, contact Uber and let them know in detail about the incident.
Uber Safety Tips
Uber has put out a list of safety tips for their riders. These include:
- Request your ride inside to minimize the time you stand outside by yourself with your phone in your hand.
- Check your Ride. Before getting in the vehicle, make sure it is the vehicle and driver who accepted the ride. Check the license plate, make and model of the car and photo ID.
- Have the driver confirm your name. There have been incidences, especially at public events such as concerts and sporting events, where two people with the same first name are looking for their Uber driver.
- Be a back-seat driver especially if you are riding alone. This gives you and the driver personal space.
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Share your trip details with loved ones before leaving. You could also use the Share trip status in the app.
- Protect your personal information. The app utilizes an anonymous phone number if you contact the driver. Do not reveal your real phone number.
- Follow your intuition and instincts. If you are nervous about the driver, cancel the ride or, if in the vehicle, call 911.
- Be respectful.
- Give feedback about your trip. If you experience a safety issue, report this to Uber and Uber will follow up with their 24/7 response team.
While it is important to practice safety, keep in mind there are millions of Uber rides given each day and the vast majority of them are very safe. The number of incidences is a very small percentage. Most rideshare drivers and passengers are pleasant and helpful.
Uber is a useful tool and by following a few commonsense measures everyone can remain safe and enjoy the convenience of having a ride at your fingertips.