HOW SAFE IS YOUR RIDESHARE?
It’s a new spin on a very old practice: getting into a stranger’s car, and trusting him or her to get you where you want to go. Our parents warned us of the dangers of hitchhiking, and most of us tend to heed their advice when faced with the opportunity. So why are we so willing to engage in the same behavior when an app on our phones summons the stranger to us? Is this practice as safe as the rideshare companies (and our teens) try to convince us it is? Let’s break it down.
REGULATIONS AND TRAINING
Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft do require drivers to undergo a background investigation. But these background checks are not run by law enforcement, and do not require fingerprinting. And training is not provided through the ridesharing companies. In fact, the companies do not meet with drivers before allowing them to transport passengers.
There are a number of safety precautions being tested and introduced by ridesharing companies, including app features like “share my trip”, and 911 buttons, as well as physical barriers like ride partitions. All of these are intended to address very real problems that have plagued the services in their early years, and indicate a step in the right direction. But we continue to read the very real and devastating stories in the news.
The Taxicab, Limousine, and Paratransit Association (TPLA) runs a website dedicated to promoting public awareness about for-hire vehicle safety, called “Who’s Driving You?” (whosdrivingyou.org). As you might imagine, these groups have a vested interest in the topic, and rideshare services are the new kid on the block cutting into their profits. But as long as you peruse their site with this bias in mind, you will find useful information about the current state of rideshare safety.
They regularly update statistics on ridesharing incidents. For example, to date, the following have been attributed to Uber or Lyft:
- 52 deaths
- 102 assaults
- 395 sexual assaults
- 22 alleged kidnappings
- 26 felons behind the wheel
- 102 imposters
- Numerous other serious incidents
Ridesharing is a useful service – it has many benefits. But as the statistics indicate, there are also risks. We regularly engage in activities that carry some degree of risk. We drive cars, swim in the ocean, get on planes … all while knowing there are risks. The key is knowing, and then actively minimizing that risk.
So how do we do that?
BEFORE YOU RIDE
- Prepare Your Purse
Carry a charged cellphone, a credit card, and some cash. It is also helpful to carry everyday items that could be used as weapons in a pinch – think pens, key chains, and personal (legal) self-defense items.
- Stay Inside
If possible, hail your ride and wait for its arrival inside a safe lighted area. Avoid lingering outside, making yourself vulnerable to theft or personal safety threats.
- Share Your Trip
It is always safer to travel with others, but if you are travelling alone, share your trip details with a trusted friend or family member. They can track your ride in real time. Both Uber and Lyft make this easy with “share” buttons on their apps. If your ride share does not provide this service, make sure you let someone know where you are, where you are going, when you intend to arrive, and information identifying the car and the driver.
- Confirm Your Car and Driver
Before you step into the vehicle, confirm a car match (license plate, car make and model) and a driver match (name and resemblance to app photo). It is a good idea to ask the driver the passenger name, rather than give your name, to be extra certain.
While these safeguards prevent falling prey to scammers, they also prevent unintended ride-stealing. Especially in crowded venues such as an airport, ballgame, or concert venue, there is a risk of grabbing the first car that looks “about right”.
IN THE CAR
- Do Not Share Personal Information
Small talk is fine, but do not share details such as where you live, how long you are travelling, or your phone number. There have been reports of post-ride stalking, made possible by over-sharing passengers.
- Sit in the Backseat and Wear Your Seatbelt
This gives you distance from the driver, and makes groping or surprise assaults less likely. It also makes it easier to get out of the vehicle in the event of an attack.
And, as always…
- TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
If something seems off, even if you can’t put your finger on it, GET OUT! End the ride early, and find a safe location to seek help.