By Emily Ferron
Uber’s disruption of the transportation industry dramatically increased our collective willingness to hop into strangers’ cars. Now, apps like Uber and Lyft facilitate over 14 million rides daily, and there’s some inherent degree of risk in every ride. Make yourself less vulnerable with these insights and tips.
Is It Safe To User Uber & Lyft in 2019?
There’s no unified source of data detailing the exact rate or nature of accidents and crimes that occur during rideshares, but nearly all of us have heard (or lived) news stories, personal anecdotes, and statistics that attest to danger, criminal activity or accidents that arise from the use of these apps. While one could argue that the rate of these incidents seems relatively low given the volume of rideshare use, it’s also true that these tragedies are somewhat preventable and their occurrence can and should be minimized through intentional thought, action and policy. Even an extremely low percentage of dangerous rides could mean hundreds or thousands of daily incidents.
The Biggest Ridesharing Risks
Fake drivers. Criminals pose as Uber drivers to take advantage of passengers. Within the last few months, University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson got into a car she mistook for her Uber and was killed by its driver just hours later. In Las Vegas, NV, a woman jumped out of a moving car to escape a fake and threatening driver. In Tuscaloosa, AL, a fake driver took photos of unconscious female passengers. In Chicago, IL, yet another fake driver swindled passengers for financial gain by saying something went wrong with payments and requesting credit cards during the ride.
Car and pedestrian accidents. “Riders often forget that their drivers might have an accident, so don’t think about normal vehicle safety, when they’re a passenger in an Uber or Lyft,” explains Orlando-based personal injury attorney Tina Willis. “We have received many calls to our office after very serious ridesharing accidents.”
Criminals. Drivers – even ones that pass Uber and Lyft’s background checks – sometimes have criminal intent. A 2018 investigation by CNN found that at least 103 Uber drivers in the preceding four years have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers, with at least 31 convicted.
The Best Uber & Lyft Safety Tips
1. Wait for your ride in a safe place.
Since apps will tell you exactly where your driver is, you only need to go out and meet them at the last possible minute. Request your ride while you’re still inside and remain in an area that is well lit, comfortable and in the presence of other people for as long as possible.
2. Always ask “What’s my name?”
University of South Carolina and the family of Samantha Josephson are spearheading the #WhatsMyName campaign to promote rideshare safety by always positively identifying your driver. Never get into an Uber, Lyft or any other private car unless the driver can first identify you by name. If they’re your actual driver, they will also know your destination.
3. Verify the car and driver.
You must also match the make, model and license plate of the car to what’s listed in the app. Make sure their personal appearance matches their profile photo.
4. Don’t ride alone.
If you can share a ride with a friend, do it. There is strength in numbers and you can split the cost to boot.
5. Use trip-sharing features.
Both Lyft and Uber have in-app trip sharing features that allow you to share live updates on your trip with trusted friends. Simply hit “Share trip status” in Uber or “Share route” in Lyft. (Sadly, Josephson’s boyfriend was tracking her phone during the fatal ride. Like other safety measures, this effort should be reinforced with additional precautions.)
6. Consider more personal safety technology.
Other apps and devices can add more layers of protection. For example, the iWitness app ($3 per month, free trial available) turns your phone into a mini security system, with a security camera, alarm and emergency 911 calling just a tap or shake away. Tego is a free app that also tracks walks and rides with optional video recording, while The Nimb Ring is a smart ring that conceals a panic button.
7. Let the driver know that the trip is being tracked.
People are more likely to commit crimes when they think they’re not going to get caught, so give some indication that people are looking out for you. Make a phone call and tell someone that you’re on an Uber. If they don’t answer (or you don’t want to call at an odd hour) one trick is to leave yourself a voice memo instead. A script like this might help: “Hey mom, just calling to let you know that I’m in my Uber now. I’ll be there in about 15 minutes and you can also follow along on the app. See you soon!”
8. Choose where to sit wisely.
Uber advises that it’s safer to sit in the back of the car because it creates two possible exits and increases space between the driver and the passenger. Additionally, sitting on the passenger side instead of directly behind the driver can help you keep an eye on both the driver and the road. However, all vehicles and situations are different. In a large car or shared ride, try to choose a seat with easy access to the door, a good vantage point of the driver and the road ahead, and courteous distance between other passengers. If you feel safer in the front seat, a good driver shouldn’t mind if you sit there. Consider it a red flag if a driver tries to force you into a certain seat.
9. Make sure your driver follows the rules of the road.
“Simply telling the driver that you actually care about safety can make a big difference in how safely he or she drives with you as a passenger,” Attorney Willis points out. She recommends reminding the driver to proceed safely and lawfully before the ride starts. Distracted driving can also be a huge problem – your driver should not make calls or fiddle with their phone, even if it’s hands-free. “There have been many catastrophic injury and death cases caused by distractions while using Bluetooth phone connections,” she says.
10. You need to follow the rules too.
Be a good passenger. Wear your seatbelt, don’t distract the driver or ask them to do anything dangerous. If sharing the ride, be courteous to other passengers.
11. Do not share personal information.
If you need to communicate with the Uber or Lyft driver, you can do so via the app without giving out your contact information, social media handles or last name. Remember that there is no legitimate reason to give your driver a direct payment. If you’re on the way home, consider being dropped off at a safe nearby location that doesn’t give away your address.
12. Trust your gut.
If anything seems “off” about your driver, car, route or anything else, speak up. Prioritize your own wellbeing over your passenger rating. Don’t get in the car if your instincts are tingling. End the ride if you’re not comfortable, as long as you’re in a safe place to exit and find another ride.
13. Be aware of traffic when entering and exiting the vehicle.
As a passenger, you might not be cognizant of nearby traffic. Wait until the car is somewhere out of harm’s way before you attempt to get in. When you get out, exit away from traffic, and make sure not to open the door into cyclists, pedestrians or other vehicles.
14. Give feedback about your trip and driver.
If you were sketched out by anything that happened during your ride, don’t hesitate to report it. You might have avoided harm or trauma, but the next person might not be so unfortunate. Do your part to help cull problematic drivers from the pool.
Are Uber and Lyft Doing Their Share? What Else Can Be Done?
Uber and Lyft both conduct reviews of drivers’ motor vehicle records and criminal records, but it’s important to understand that people with no previous record may still participate in dangerous behavior. And of course, background checks can’t prevent people from posing as legitimate drivers. After Samantha Josephson’s death, Uber and Lyft expanded some communication measures to enhance rider safety and ensure they get into the correct vehicles (the apps more prominently remind riders to verify the driver, car and license plate, for example). Both apps now have an in-app panic button to call 911. These efforts were applauded by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths.
On May 16, South Carolina’s governor signed the Samantha Josephson Act into law, requiring all rideshare drivers to have a sign with the name of the service and license plate number prominently displayed on the front of the vehicle while on duty. (A previous provision requiring illuminated signs was scrapped before the bill became law.) It also codifies the act of impersonating a driver as a misdemeanor crime. Similar legislation has been proposed in North Carolina and New Jersey, and other states are expected to follow suit. Contact your local lawmakers to voice support for these issues. Many riders have asked whether they can request specific drivers or to only ride in cars with female drivers. Neither major app grants this permission or has announced plans to do so.