Despite their convenience and user-friendly interfaces, ride-share apps like Uber still come with certain safety risks. According to its first public safety report ever, Uber said that 3,045 sexual assaults were reported among rides in the U.S. last year—a slight uptick from 2,936 reports in 2017.
And while these numbers may represent a tiny fraction of overall Uber rides—the company reports that that 2.3 billion rides were taken in the U.S. between 2017 and 2018—a combined number of nearly 6,000 sexual assault reports is alarming; this stats also fails to take into account those of Uber rides not in the U.S.
“The numbers are jarring and hard to digest,” Tony West, Uber’s chief legal office told the New York Times last week. “What it says is that Uber is a reflection of the society it serves.”
In the recent past, Uber launched several efforts to improve its safety practices, including incorporating more thorough background checks for drivers, in addition to several safety features you should be aware of in case of an emergency.
How to use Uber’s safety features
For one, if your ride has suddenly stopped and for a period of time, Uber may initiate a “Ride Check” to both the driver and rider. “The technology proactively checks in with riders and drivers to see if everything is OK, and the app provides tools that they can use to get help, if needed,” Uber’s safety report reads.
For riders, this may appear as a prompt if you have Uber notifications set up to appear on your screen for the app; if not, the prompt will appear beneath the “Share Trip Status” option on your ride. From here, you can choose to call 000 in-app (whether by phone or by text, which will send your location to 000 dispatchers), contact Uber’s safety line, report a crash or share your ride status with a friend.
If you don’t see this prompt, or need to contact someone immediately, most of these features are also accessible during your ride via the “Safety Toolkit,” which appears as a blue shield on the map of your ride. Here you’ll find a more limited set of options, including a link to Uber’s online “Safety Centre” (where you can learn more about its policies), the option to share your location and trip status with a friend or family member or call 000 in-app.
Other tactics to stay safe
Aside from Uber’s tools, though, it’s important to practice other general safety tips when it comes to ride-share apps (on the part of both drivers and riders). It should go without saying, but always, always verify the car that appears before you by cross-checking the vehicle’s licence plate number, make, model, and colour. You might also ask for the driver’s name before entering the car, who they’re picking up, and your planned destination. If you’re in an Uber Pool, you can also verify the other passengers in the car before getting in, too; on the app, you can see the names of passengers who may be travelling with you by scrolling toward the bottom of your planned ride.
And always maintain contact via Uber’s messaging platform, which uses anonymised phone numbers for both you and your driver’s privacy. If you want to be extra safe, you might also share your location from the start of your ride, using Uber’s Safety Toolkit. Here, you can add people to your “Trusted Contacts,” which allows you to send your ride status with up to five people of your choosing.