Whose Safety Is It, Anyway?
We hear a lot about Uber and Lyft rider safety in the media, but what about driver safety? Background checks and intermittent verification of IDs improve the likelihood that passengers are safe… but what about drivers?
Thus far, neither Uber nor Lyft requires a background check for passengers. Depending on which expert you ask, it may or may not be legal to investigate customers, and it certainly isn’t very practical.
Riders want to download the app and use it right away. There is no time for them to be checked to prove that they aren’t, say, a serial assault felon, a sexual predator, or… an axe murderer. Plus, the companies don’t want to pay for those millions of riders to have background checks.
The fact is, most passengers are perfectly nice, and are kind and decent people. They want a safe, comfortable, and uneventful ride to get them where they need to be, and that’s all.
Most rideshare drivers are good human beings too—and safer than many people riders are likely to meet. They’ve been background-checked, and their cars and safety records must undergo rigorous inspections to qualify to work for the rideshare company.
Of course there are inevitably a few bad apples, such as the drivers who fly off the handle when placed under stress. And, from the driver’s point of view, there is always a chance that someone who is mentally unstable, or even criminal, will get in the car.
Just as passengers have the right to know they are safe with their drivers, drivers have every right to ask just how safe working in rideshare is for them.
Some Facts About Driver Safety
If you only paid attention to media reports, you’d think the rideshare driver community was a collection of social deviants. You might also conclude that rideshare companies don’t care enough about safety, or protecting riders and drivers.
As it turns out, neither of these assumptions is true. In December 2019 Uber published its US Safety Report, which is an extensive research study covering driver and rider safety. The study examined data from 2017 and 2018—a timeframe when an average of 3.1 million trips took place each day in the United States. There were many interesting conclusions, with some that stand out more than others. Like this one:
“…our data shows that drivers report assaults at roughly the same rate as riders across the 5 most serious categories of sexual assault. Drivers are victims, too.”
If you need visual evidence of the bad things that can happen to drivers, you can watch the videos below to see a driver get attacked for not dodging traffic in Queens, New York.
If you conduct your own online video search, you’re sure to find other instances of drivers getting threatened, injured, and worse.
But wait! Before you run off to cancel your driver account out of sheer terror, you should know about an essential finding of the Uber study, as the report states: “The vast majority (99.9%) of Uber trips end without any safety-related issue at all.” Of the more than 3 million trips studied for 2017 and 2018, for example:
• 1.4 percent of trips had a support request of any kind, most frequently for issues such as lost items, refunds, or route feedback;
• 0.1 percent of trips had a support request for a safety-related concern, the majority of which were about minor safety issues such as complaints of harsh braking or a verbal argument;
• 0.0003 percent of trips had a report of a critical safety incident, which are the incidents referenced in the report.
How Do Companies Protect Drivers?
All companies are concerned about the people who work for them, even if the employees are contractors. The main reason (despite their efforts to make us believe they “love” us) is their own legal liability.
Could Uber or Lyft be sued if you are attacked by a rider? Probably. Would you win the lawsuit? Assuming you have the financial means to even start a lawsuit, you might win, but it isn’t a done deal. Because drivers are contract employees, there surely won’t be any workers’ compensation, or the opportunity to organize and push for safer working conditions.
In some cases, rideshare companies protect drivers with insurance policies. For example, if you were outside your car, helping a rider with luggage, and got struck by another vehicle, your medical costs would be covered by the company’s insurance.
However, when the harm done to a driver is not accidental (such as harm caused by a rider committing a crime), the resolution is not so crystal-clear.
To protect themselves a bit better, rideshare companies have taken measures to increase the level of driver safety. Here are some of them.
Always call 911 for a true emergency. Along with making the call with your phone, another option is using your driver app.
Uber has an almost-instant way to contact emergency rideshare services. From any ride-related screen, the driver can tap on the blue shield icon in the lower left hand corner, and then call 911. A similar screen is available to both drivers and riders in the Lyft app.
Following Your Ride
Uber’s Follow My Ride feature allows family members or other loved ones to monitor your movements, stops, and, of course, your location.
You can set up the app to contact anyone you designate to “watch over” you. When you activate Follow My Ride, this person will be able to monitor your trip, and know exactly where you are at all times.
It’s always best to leave emergency situations to the professionals, but it can’t hurt to have someone who knows and loves you on call. This person can advocate for you, and make sure you get the right kind of help in a timely manner.
You control when Follow My Ride kicks in, so you won’t be under constant surveillance. There’s no need to let your loved ones know how many times you stopped for a milkshake—but you’ll be glad to know that when you tap the button, they can be alerted to watch your every move.
Built-In Monitoring Features
Thanks to GPS, and those clever coders who care enough to consider driver safety, there are ways for the rideshare company to detect when you might be in trouble.
Uber already has the Ride Check feature up and running. You might get a ping from it when your rider is taking an extra-long time to buy lottery tickets on the way home, or if you have a collision. If you don’t answer the ping by indicating that you’re safe, Uber will offer tools to help get you out of a serious or threatening situation.
According to representatives from Lyft, the company will roll out a similar app feature in the near future.
General Safety Guidelines
Abiding by Community Standards
Uber and Lyft stress that the purpose of their “community standards” is to ensure driver safety, as well as the safety of riders.
Physical contact, sexual assault or misconduct, discrimination, threatening language or actions, and unwanted contact after the ride, are all violations of community standards. They are also grounds for being deactivated from rideshare platforms. If you feel that you are the target of any of these acts, report it to your rideshare company.
If you are physically assaulted or threatened, you should immediately call 911. Once the authorities have processed the incident, you should also contact the rideshare company to report it. Get your side of the story on the record, right away, before the rider presents an account that is very different from yours.
Driver General Safety Practices: Do’s … and Don’ts
There are many ways you can protect yourself as a driver, but carrying a weapon is NOT one of them. Unless you are an authorized person, such as working for the rideshare company as a security officer, you are not allowed to carry any firearm with you.
This prohibition may extend to items such as stun guns, tasers, and knives. Check with Lyft or Uber before you bring anything that might be classified as a weapon into your car while you’re on duty.
If a rider spots a weapon in your car, you could be reported, and you will be deactivated. This goes in both directions, of course. If you notice that a rider is carrying a weapon, you have every right to refuse the ride, and to report the person to the rideshare company.
Uber does have one exception to its firearms policy. If a firearm is legal under state regulations, and it is unloaded, contained in a hard case, and in the trunk of the car, Uber will allow the firearm to be carried while a driver is online.
Now, here are some tips that can help keep you safe. Some are suggested by the rideshare companies, and all really come from a reasonable application of common sense.
- Wait for riders to identify you by name before you let them in your car. This way, you know they are the person authorized (and identified) on the account.
- Don’t accept riders who are not the person on the account. For example, if the account says you’re going to pick up Marvin, and the rider announces that she’s his girlfriend, you can, and probably should, refuse the ride.
- Keep the conversation casual and consensual. Learn how to monitor how much a rider wants to talk, and follow the person’s lead. Even if you wind up having a lovely chat, don’t give out any information about yourself that could lead to unwanted contact after the ride.
- Never allow a minor (a person under the age of 18) to ride in your car without an accompanying adult. This is in violation of company policy for both Uber and Lyft, and your insurance will not cover this rider in the event of an accident.
- Stand just outside your vehicle if the parent of a minor child should leave them there, even momentarily. This helps you avoid any appearance of being less than a safe and watchful adult.
- Don’t make stops unless they are put into the app by the rider. You want the app to continue tracking your position, and how long you stay in one spot.
- Don’t be scared. Your own fear can be your biggest enemy in an unsafe situation. If you don’t already have training, consider taking a self-defense course. While you hope you never have to engage in actual hand-to-hand combat, you’ll learn how to carry yourself and be aware of your surroundings. These are the things that make you feel safe and be safe, everywhere, especially when you’re driving for Uber or Lyft.
Both rideshare companies provide a lot of features that ensure your safety as a driver. In addition to in-app safety resources, there is a lot of safety information that every driver should know before going out on the road.
Do Rideshare Companies Do Enough?
Despite the in-app assistance and general education the rideshare companies offer to their drivers, being a rideshare driver can be risky. Friends, relatives, and even riders ask questions like, “Aren’t you afraid to let strangers ride with you in your car?”
Ideally, drivers would be more certain about the backgrounds of the people they pick up as passengers. A quick criminal background check could go a long way to prevent horrendous incidents. The rider might cover it as part of the agreement to use the service, or the rideshare company could share the cost.
One solution might be a classification system for riders, just as there are for drivers. Of course, the mutual rating system is already in place—although the stars don’t really offer a lot of assurance. In the flurry and potential rush of accepting a ride, a customer would rarely have a rating that was consistently low enough for a driver to notice.
If rideshare companies created a distinctive classification for riders who have undergone a background check, this would provide some level of protection. Yet even with a system like this, there would be no guarantee that someone who passed a background check last week won’t turn into a raging maniac after a bout of raucous partying this Saturday night.
The companies’ reliance on “community guidelines” is overly optimistic. People may not read the guidelines thoroughly, and even if they do, they will likely forget much of what they learned when faced with difficult situations. From the over-caffeinated office worker who needs to vent to an impaired passenger looking for the next bar, rideshare drivers are faced with some tough customers, and are often at risk because of it.
The best way to stay safe while driving for a rideshare company is to use your own common sense, and make safety your top priority. Use the tools the companies provide, and learn how to protect yourself.
Bending the rules or going against your instincts can be far more costly than the few bucks you might make by taking rides that put you in uncomfortable or unsafe situations. While you want to please your customers and support your rideshare company, the most important thing to keep in mind is to always protect yourself.