Last December, a Seattle woman was raped in White Center when she got into the car of a man she thought was an Uber driver.

Hers isn’t the only such story. In April, University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson got into a car she thought was her Uber and was killed by its driver. In Las Vegas, a woman jumped out of a moving car to escape a threatening driver who also turned out to be phony. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a fake driver took photos of female passengers while they were unconscious.

But these kinds of incidents don’t only involve people pretending to be ride-hail drivers. More than 3,000 sexual assaults happened during actual Uber rides in the United States last year, according to a long-awaited safety study released Thursday by the company.

The report divides sexual assaults and misconduct into 21 categories but focuses on the five most serious, including rape, of which there were 235. The company also reported that there had been about 6,000 other incidents of misconduct over 2017 and 2018.

If you need help

News reports of sexual-assault allegations could be a trigger for victims and survivors of abuse. Here are some resources:
  • The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center offers a 24-hour resource line (888-998-6423). Additionally, KCSARC can help connect people with therapy, legal advocates and family services (kcsarc.org/gethelp).
  • UW Medicine’s Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress (depts.washington.edu/hcsats) offers resources, including counseling and medical care. For immediate help, call 206-744-1600.
  • For readers outside King County, the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs lists 38 Washington state providers that offer free services. (wcsap.org/find-help)
  • RAINN: Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network provides a free, confidential hotline (800-656-4673) and online chat (hotline.rainn.org) with trained staff members.

Uber has been making safety changes, and in King County, assault allegations have led to talk of screening ride-hail drivers.

Meanwhile, public-safety experts and the companies themselves have issued a number of safety tips for passengers.

Advertising

Here are some recommendations from Uber and from Safety.com, a site that highlights personal-safety research and home-security reviews.

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. Ask the driver to identify you.

The driver should know the answer to “What’s my name?” or “Who are you here to pick up?” Never get into an Uber, Lyft or any other private car unless the driver can first identify you by name.

While a driver might also ask you to verify their name for their own peace of mind, you should still ask them to identify you. Asking a driver, “Are you ___?” isn’t enough because a faker will lie and say yes to any name you say.

If they’re your actual driver, they will also already know your destination.

3. Verify the car and driver.

Check that the make, model and license plate of the car match what’s listed in the app. Make sure the driver’s personal appearance matches their profile photo.

Advertising

4. Don’t ride alone, if possible.

Ride with a friend when you can. There is strength in numbers. Plus, you can split the cost.

5. Use trip-sharing features.

The Lyft and Uber apps both have features that allow you to share live updates about your trip with trusted friends. In the Uber app, tap “Share trip status.” In the Lyft app, tap “Share route.” (Note, though, that this precaution isn’t enough on its own. Josephson’s boyfriend was tracking her phone during her fatal ride.)

6. Use personal-safety technology.

Uber and Lyft’s apps both include a button to call 911. If you’re using Uber’s 911 feature in Seattle or one of many other cities, the app can automatically share your trip details with the dispatcher. And Lyft says it plans to roll out a feature that checks in with you if your ride has been stopped for an “unusual amount of time.”

A variety of other apps and devices are also available to keep users safe. For example, the iWitness app includes a security camera, alarm and emergency 911 calling via a tap or shake; it costs $3 per month but offers a free trial first. A free app, Tego, tracks walks and rides with optional video recording. And a company called Nimb makes 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, according to Safety.com, which recommends giving some indication that people are looking out for you. Make a phone call and tell someone you’re in an Uber. If they don’t answer, or you don’t want to call a friend so late, you can fake a phone call by leaving yourself a voice memo that sounds like one. Safety.com’s example: “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. Sit in the back seat, on the passenger side.

The back seat is farther from the driver and offers two possible exits, Uber notes in its own rider safety tips. Sitting on the passenger side of the back seat also lets you keep an eye on the driver. A driver shouldn’t try to force you into a certain seat.

Advertising

9. Indicate that safety is a priority for you.

Crashes are another common risk with ride-hailing. “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,” Orlando-based personal injury attorney Tina Willis told Safety.com. Put your seat belt on before the car starts moving, and encourage your driver to follow the rules of the road, including staying off their phone.

10. Don’t share personal information.

If you need to communicate with the driver, do so via the app. Don’t give out your contact information, social media handles or last name. If you’re heading home, consider being dropped off at a safe location nearby so the driver doesn’t learn your home address.

11. Use the rating systems.

If anything went wrong with your ride, such as unsafe driving or a driver making you uncomfortable, rate the ride afterward in the app. The companies say they look into low-rated rides and drivers who break their rules, and if you give a driver a low rating, you won’t be matched with that person again.

12. Trust your gut.

If anything seems “off” about your driver, car, route or anything else, speak up. Prioritize your own well-being over your passenger rating or politeness. 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.