For nearly two years, Jassy StokesOliver crisscrossed the freeways of San Diego late at night, delivering food and dropping off riders as a gig driver for DoorDash, Lyft and Uber. She preferred working late because there was little traffic, and she never felt unsafe.
Then two incidents hammered home the risks of the business. On a routine delivery trip last summer, her nephew Keshon, who also worked for DoorDash, was shot twice in the head by a passing driver. The 19-year-old survived, but the shooter has not been found.
Just weeks later, as StokesOliver, 44, was trying to drop off cigarettes and a 12-pack of soda at a property for DoorDash, a man standing nearby followed her up to the door. As she bent down to leave the package, she saw out of the corner of her eye that he was holding a gun. She pulled out her phone to snap a picture, and he retreated. She hurried back to her car and sped off, with her 10-year-old son in the back seat.
“That was the last day I drove for DoorDash. It just made me very uncomfortable,” said StokesOliver, who later moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “I realized we’re not safe.”
The danger that StokesOliver and her nephew faced are stark examples of incidents gathered in a report released Wednesday by a driver advocacy group called Gig Workers Rising. The report said at least 50 gig drivers working for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash had been killed while on the job in the United States since 2017.
Much attention has been paid to the risks that ride-hailing passengers might face when entering a stranger’s vehicle, but the drivers’ group and the family members of drivers who were killed say they hope the report will highlight a concern that receives less focus: the risk that passengers themselves may pose to drivers.
Although the report relied mostly on already public accounts in the news media, it is notable in part because it is the most recent count of violence against drivers since Uber and Lyft released their own safety reports years ago.
In late 2019, Uber said more than 3,000 people had been sexually assaulted, nine murdered and 58 killed in crashes in 2018 in the United States in its first-ever safety report. Uber pledged to release a new report every two years but has not yet released the second. It plans to do so this spring.
Lyft’s first safety report was released last year and said about 1,800 people had been sexually assaulted, four killed in physical assaults and about 50 killed in accidents in the United States in 2019.
Uber, Lyft and DoorDash said in statements that they had built their platforms with safety in mind, with features like the ability to connect discreetly with people at ADT, the security firm, or to share location information through ride-hailing apps.
It is hard to compare how dangerous gig driving is with other professions, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes some fatal occupational injury tallies public. But Gig Workers Rising argues that the risks of gig work stand out for more than simply the number of deaths.
Because gig drivers are often classified as independent contractors rather than employees, they often receive less support from the companies they work for when something goes wrong, the report said.
In some cases, Gig Workers Rising said, family members of dead drivers never heard from the companies they drove for or did not receive death benefits or assistance with insurance claims or funeral services.
DoorDash said it had spoken with StokesOliver’s family and helped them make a claim with their insurance.
In August, Isabella Lewis, a Lyft driver in Texas, was killed in what was seemingly a random attack by a passenger who was believed by the police to be a terrorist. After shooting her in the head, the man pulled her out of the vehicle and drove over her while fleeing in her car. He later died from wounds he received in a shootout with the police, according to news reports.
Lewis’ sister, Allyssa Lewis-Brown, said the loss had still not fully sunk in.
“It still hasn’t hit that I’ll never get to see her again,” said Lewis-Brown, 23, who remembered her sister as caring and protective. “That just kind of blows my mind. You think you have more time with people.”
She said she hoped her story and the driver death report would spur ride-hailing companies to find a way to keep drivers safer, perhaps by rigorously screening passengers before they can use the services. Lyft, she said, never spoke with her.
“The least you could do is pay for funeral expenses,” she said.
Lyft said that it had tried to reach Lewis’ family but had been unsuccessful.