Are Ridesharing Apps Actually Safe?

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It was only four years ago, in 2012, the rideshare app called Uber launched in New York City. In that short period of time, the number of drivers working for the company has skyrocketed to 160,000 in 400 cities, who serve over 8 million passengers. It also sparked the creation of numerous other companies who all want a piece of the pie, including Lyft, Getaround, Your City, Sidecar, Carma Carpooling, and Arro.

It can’t be argued that this is a much easier way for most people to obtain a ride. Users are able to put their location in and don’t have to worry about whether or not they have cash because the app is already hooked up to a credit card. It also allows them to see what kind of car will be picking them up, the driver’s picture, and the driver’s current rating. These features were designed to ensure the safety of the passenger who likely has never met the person whose car they are getting into. However, many now question if the safety features and background check performed by rideshare app companies are enough to prevent sexual assaults.

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Problems From The Beginning

It didn’t take long for passengers to report that drivers frequently crossed the line, making sexual comments or unwanted advances. Shortly after Uber launched in Washington D.C., one of the first rape allegations was made by a 20-year-old woman who told police that her 35-year-old Uber driver had grabbed her, hit her head on the sidewalk, and raped her. Unfortunately, these allegations were only the tip of the iceberg.

Since that time, hundreds of complaints and arrests have been made regarding stalking, groping, sexual harassment, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and rape.

Read More: What Is The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative?

Lawsuits Against Uber

In 2015, two women anonymously filed lawsuits against Uber, alleging that the company’s background check is not comprehensive enough and that as a result, they were sexually assaulted by drivers who should not have been approved in the first place.

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Since its formation, Uber had claimed that they had “industry leading” driver screening processes and that their drivers were the “safest on the road”. But the fact remains that the company does not collect the fingerprints of potential drivers when they apply and, as a result, may miss crucial information such as prior convictions. In one instance, the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles reported that Uber did not determine that 25 drivers who had been hired to work in the two cities had a criminal record.

In response, Uber claimed that because drivers are not employees but actually contractors, they could not be held responsible for their actions.

These two cases did not make it to court as all parties agreed to a settlement, the terms of which have not been disclosed.

In a completely separate case with similar allegations, Uber agreed to a $28.5 million dollar settlement and to discontinue advertising that their background checks were industry leading. This doesn’t, however, mean that they plan to change the methods they use to determine if a driver should be hired.

Tips For Staying Safe

While the majority of all rideshare passengers have a safe and pleasant ride, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t always take steps to stay as safe as possible. This might include:

  1. Take the time to double check the information provided. This means checking the make, model, and color of the car, as well as the license plate. There have been numerous cases of people posing as an Uber driver and kidnapping unsuspecting passengers.
  2. Ride in the backseat if possible. This allows for extra distance between a passenger and a potentially abusive driver.
  3. Stay awake. Don’t relax enough that you dose off – this can allow an attacker time to drive to an unidentified location.
  4. Keep your cell phone handy.

Sadly, in some circumstances, attacks will still happen.

A Victim’s Options

Although nothing can reverse time and change what has happened, there are several ways in which victims can get the medical care, emotional support, and even a sense that justice has been done.

If you or a loved one have been sexually assaulted, the first thing to do is get the medical care that you need. If you are not sure where you can get help, call 800.656.HOPE (4653), the National Sexual Assault Hotline. They can provide you with the location of a health facility and if you desire, can send an advocate who can help you through the process.

During this exam, a rape kit will be performed, which collects the forensic evidence from your body, clothing, and other belongings. Then, if you chose, you have the option of reporting your attack to law enforcement. A specially trained officer will take your statement and explain all legal options that are available to you.

It is also important to immediately begin the process of self-care. You have undergone a terrible trauma and this will impact you physically, mentally, and emotionally. It will take time to heal and it is not uncommon for survivors to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It can be extremely beneficial to find a therapist that you feel comfortable talking to or a local support group for victims.

While criminal charges will be pressed against your assailant, it can also help to file a sexual assault lawsuit. This is is a separate civil suit and can help the victim obtain monetary compensation for any losses they have sustained.

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