Worldwide, Uber drivers completed an incredible 4.98 billion trips in 2020, according to a report by the website BusinessofApps.com. Thanks to the pandemic, those numbers were down from the 6.9 billion trips in 2019. Lyft, which only operates in the U.S. and Canada, did not come close to those heady numbers, but it still ranked in the millions.
That’s incredible. Each day millions of people, transported by hundreds of thousands of drivers, get safely from one location to another.
The reality is the number of assaults against drivers is very small. According to a 2019 Uber report, well more than 99.9% of trips are completed without a safety incident. Lyft’s numbers are very similar.
But if you’re a rideshare driver who has been assaulted, that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you’ve been assaulted, and it does happen. There are things you can do, however, to protect yourself, and in many cases recognize and avoid this danger.
Questions we’re answering about rideshare driver safety
The reality is that drivers get assaulted every day, but there are things you can do to prevent assaults or defend yourself if you are assaulted.
The questions we are answering in this blog post include
- Is it safe to be an Uber or Lyft driver in 2022?
- What are rideshare drivers experiencing in 2022?
- Should rideshare drivers carry weapons?
- What can rideshare drivers legally do to stay safe?
- Uber and Lyft: What are they doing for driver safety?
- What do you do if you are assaulted?
An assault—or just a rude passenger?
There is a question we should address at the beginning of this discussion. What is an assault versus who is a passenger you just don’t like?
The reality is that you’re likely to encounter passengers you don’t particularly like every time you drive. They are rude. They micromanage your choice of routes. They don’t like your music. They lecture you on their view of the world, including whether major league baseball’s designated hitter rule is a good thing.
These are not problem passengers and are not likely to assault you. They are not the passengers you should be taking self-defense measures against.
THESE are the problem passengers
The reality is that Uber and Lyft driver safety is a problem, although it is not an epidemic. Compared to the number of rides the two services handle each day, the number of assaults is low.
Still, there are incidents of violence against drivers, even recent ones:
- In late April, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a rideshare driver was shot in the back and left arm, causing him to crash his car into a pole. Paramedics found the 50-year-old driver on the street and rushed him to the hospital, where he was listed in critical but stable condition.
- In February of this year, the Kansas City Star reported that a female passenger attacked a Lyft driver in St. Louis after she threw his phone out of the car. During the ensuing struggle, she bit off a portion of his ear. The driver got out of the car, and the woman took his place behind the wheel and drove off. Police later found the car involved in a traffic accident. The woman, of course, fled the scene.
- Fox 5 Atlanta reported that two women with a gun carjacked a five-year veteran of Uber in Norcross, GA, this past November. The driver was uninjured. She still had the ignition key in her pocket and activated the automatic shut-off feature. Police recovered her car not far away when it stopped running.
The question of whether to carry a weapon
Lyft has a policy of forbidding any type of weapon, including “stun guns, explosives, knives, slingshots, and tasers.” Uber’s safety policy only talks about firearms, not mentioning any of the items that Lyft prohibits: “Uber prohibits riders and their guests, as well as driver and delivery partners, from carrying firearms of any kind while using the app, to the extent permitted by applicable law.”
Both rideshare services have banned drivers from the app for incidents in which they had a gun while driving. There are legal services specializing in defense of rideshare drivers. They will defend you and work to get you reinstated. Whether the rideshare services can actually prohibit drivers from carrying weapons is a thorny issue. Opponents maintain that the companies are infringing on drivers’ 2nd Amendment rights. There has been at least one driver lawsuit, as reported in a previous blog post on Gridwise.
However, it is important that if you do choose to carry a weapon, you are trained in how to use it. Firearms are dangerous, and there is always the danger that you could be disarmed and have that gun used against you.
Drivers can still protect themselves
Still, drivers have ways and techniques to protect themselves while transporting passengers. Some of them are surprisingly simple.
“I have a philosophy,” said one rideshare driver. “For me, it all comes down to attitude and expectations. If you expect the best out of people, you are apt to get the best out of people. If you expect the worst out of people, you will probably get the worst out of people. I tell my passengers this all the time.”
What that driver is talking about is control of your car. You are sharing your car, as many rideshare drivers do, even if you are renting. Act as if it is your car. Control the environment. Play your music. Talk it up with drivers. Be likable. If the ne’er-do-well is contemplating misbehavior, the fact that you are a nice person might make them think twice. Do you have a family? Put a picture of them on your dashboard, anything to make an attacker reconsider.
There are also more specific things you can do to ensure your safety in case of an attack.
Be mentally prepared to give up your car
This is a decision you should make beforehand. Your life is more important than your car. In case of an attack, your priority should be to get out of the car and get away. You can get another car. You have only one life.
Ask passengers to wear their seatbelts. This is standard safety practice, and it also gives you a heads-up. If you hear the seatbelt unlock in the middle of a ride, something might be up.
Carry a small metal flashlight
You can get one at one of the big-box hardware stores for less than $15. It should be six to eight inches long so that it protrudes from either end of your closed fist. Keep it within arm’s reach. If someone grabs you from behind or from the side, smash it against their hand or even their face. Your justification for carrying it: you need to read addresses for late-night residential pick-ups.
Carry a steel-barrelled ball-point pen
This can function similarly to a flashlight. If someone tries to grab you from behind, jam it into their hand or arm. Ladies, you can go one step further and carry a nail file. Either way, you have a justifiable reason for having these items.
Perfume instead of mace
This one is not just for the ladies, either. Male drivers can maintain that a lady passenger left it. Either way, you have a justifiable reason for carrying it. According to the Fragrances Lover website, perfume has several vision-threatening types of chemicals. Blinding someone is not your goal, though. You just want to make their life miserable enough that you can escape.
In-car cameras not only protect you from false allegations, but they ward off would-be thieves and bad guys. Discourage someone from simply taking the camera by posting a sign in your car that says the camera uploads the digital footage to the cloud, even if it doesn’t.
You don’t need a second-degree black belt in martial arts to know some basic defense maneuvers. Here are a few common ones.
- Recline your seat
If someone grabs you from behind and you can’t break their hold, reach down and recline your seat. This move takes away their angle of advantage. Be aware, though, that this allows them to strike you in the face easier, but you just need enough time to twist out of their grip and run away.
- Know the helmet guard move
As a rideshare driver, most striking attacks come from your right side, the side where there is enough open space to maneuver. Learn the helmet guard. Reach up and grab the back of your head with your right arm and press your elbow tightly against your head and face. This gives you protection from injury while you reach with your other hand to open the door and get out.
- Focus on vision and breath
An attacker needs two things: they need to see and they need to breathe. Gouge or slash at the eyes with fingers stretched out and apart, temporarily blinding them. A solid punch in the nose will make your eyes water. Professional tip: Punching with a closed fist will get you a broken knuckle if you don’t know what you’re doing. Better to use an open palm. It often does more damage, too.
As for breathing, a punch to the throat leaves most people unable to breathe, allowing you to escape.
Practice your rideshare driver safety
Don’t wait for an attack to use these techniques. Practice them every day before you start driving. It only takes a few minutes. Drill yourself on reclining your seat and undoing your seatbelt simultaneously. Be able to reach the inside door handle with your eyes closed. These reactions should be spontaneous and instinctive.
Also, remember that you have the right as a rideshare driver to refuse a ride. If you see the passenger from a distance and they are visibly drunk, agitated, or otherwise suspicious, drive right past and cancel the ride.
Pay attention to passenger ratings, too. If a passenger has a low rating, there is a reason. You don’t need to find out why.
Consider carrying a limited amount of cash when you drive. You might also think about not carrying ATM cards or maintaining large balances on your apps such as PayPal, CashApp, and others. Many thieves like to drain the apps while holding you at gunpoint or make you withdraw money from your ATM.
How have Uber and Lyft handled the issue of assaults against drivers?
As reported by The Verge and many other sources, Uber’s previously mentioned study, released in 2019, documented 3,045 sexual attacks in 2018 (235 of them were rapes, according to Uber. The others were groping, unwanted kissing, etc.). During this time Uber drivers delivered an average of 3.1 million rides per day.
Lyft issued its report in 2021, also reported by The Verge. Lyft released it a full two years after they promised it would come out. The company reported 1,807 sexual assaults in 2019, but they failed to differentiate between assaults on drivers or passengers and gave no reason why. They also did not disclose how many total rides were considered in the study.
When it comes to assaults on drivers, both companies have skin in the game. They don’t want to see anything that discourages individuals from signing up to be drivers. Drivers on the app are part of the formula of how Uber and Lyft earn their revenue.
Assaults of drivers are also widely publicized, too, thanks to in-car videos posted on YouTube and replayed by the broadcast media.
Recent driver safety measures from both Lyft and Uber
To their credit, both rideshare services have enacted safety measures in the last few years. Both apps now have a panic button. TechCrunch reported on Uber’s launch of an audio documentation feature on their app in December 2021. It debuted in three markets: Raleigh, NC, Kansas City, MO, and Louisville, KY. Uber is also monitoring individual rides for unexpected route changes or stops and contacting drivers when they are detected. Both measures are app-based.
In July 2021, Lyft released its own safety measures in partnership with ADT. Drivers confronted with a situation can contact ADT surreptitiously. If the situation warrants, ADT will alert the police. You can now program the Lyft app to allow a friend or family member to monitor your location. Lyft is also using tracking features similar to Uber, again monitoring unexpected route changes or prolonged stops.
What should you do if you’re attacked during your driving shift?
If you are attacked in your role as a rideshare driver, the first thing you need to do is care for your own safety. Report it to 911. Too many attackers return, confident in the knowledge that they got away with it the first time.
Remember the recommendation about choosing your life over your car? We mean it. You can replace the car, but you can’t replace your life, and your family will not be able to replicate you, either.
Contact driver support for your respective rideshare service. You can either do this through the app or call their service number. Make sure they know an attack happened.
Lastly, know that you can also take advantage of a number of legal aid services available to rideshare and other gig drivers. There have been anecdotal reports, more than a few, of rideshare services not giving attacks serious attention. A quick Google search will result in the names of a number of law firms specializing in rideshare driver advocacy. Some of them advertise no up-front fees.
Don’t forget Gridwise
Gridwise is another partner you can use while driving. In addition to offering free mileage and earning tracking, Gridwise will be launching a partnership with LegalRideshare, the only legal firm that advocates for gig drivers. Soon you’ll be able to contact LegalRideshare directly from the Gridwise app to receive legal assistance if you’ve been attacked or been in an accident. Make sure you’ve downloaded the free Gridwise app to track your miles and earnings, and get updated when the partnership launches.
Stay safe out there!