Taking an Uber? 9 Tips to Ride Safely

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Uber recently revealed that more than 3,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported last year in its vehicles in the United States. While that number represents a small fraction of its total rides, it’s still a scary possibility to customers who want to safely use the service. Both Uber and Lyft, the other leading ride-hailing company, post advice for staying safe in a ride share on their websites, and also offer safety features that allow passengers and drivers to share their location and call 911. New ride-hailing services like Safr are focusing on serving female drivers and female passengers.

Here are tips to stay safe:

1. Request your ride from a safe place

Wait in a busy well-lit area or indoors if you can until you receive the notification that the driver has arrived.

Standing out on the street holding your phone makes you a target for driver impersonators, who will hope that your guard is down and you will get in their car, said Bryant Greening, an attorney who works with accident and assault victims and is a co-founder of the Chicago-based law firm legalrideshare.com.

“Once you are inside the car, it’s much more difficult to protect yourself,” he said.

2. Confirm you are getting in the right car

First match the car’s model, license plate and driver’s photo to the app.

And rather than offering your name when you open the car door, ask: “Who are you here for?”

“This is safety step one,” Mr. Greening said, and probably the most important one.

3. Tell a friend or family where you are going

Uber, Lyft and a few other apps offer passengers the ability to share their trip status and tracking, as well as the driver’s name, photo and license plate. If you are feeling threatened in any way, tell the driver you’ve shared this information.

Dana Lockhart of the Seattle Police Department’s Victims Support Team encourages groups of friends to add each other’s contact information to ride-share apps so they can more easily share their rides. Another safety habit she suggests is to call a friend (or your own voice mail) so the driver can hear you say something along the lines of “I just got into the car and will meet you at the house in 20 minutes.” Riders should make the driver aware that they “have their wits about them and that they are not vulnerable,” Ms. Lockhart said.

Gabi Estrada, a college student in upstate New York, uses ride-hailing services a few times a week. She says she and her friends text each other to say when they are expected to arrive, especially at night. They also map their way during the ride with Google maps to make sure the driver isn’t straying from the best route.

4. Sit in the back seat on the passenger side

This seat will allow you to watch the driver, the road and have access to an exit. Be wary if the driver asks you to sit in a certain seat. Mr. Greening suggests trying the door handle once you are in the car, before the driver pulls away, to make sure child locks are not engaged and you have access to an exit.

5. Don’t ride impaired

Ride shares are a great way to avoid drinking and driving, but riding impaired whether you are drunk, high or tired, can make you more vulnerable to assault. You are also more likely to get in the wrong car.

If you are with friends who are slightly intoxicated, help them check the app to make sure they are getting into the right car, Ms. Lockhart said. “Taking our friends’ safety seriously needs to be the norm,” she said, adding that once you put them in a car doesn’t mean they’ll get home safely, however, so stay in touch or find an alternative for them.

6. Ride together

Try not to ride alone, and if you are getting off at different stops, clearly communicate aloud that your ride is being tracked. “I stay at a friend’s apartment rather than ride home alone,” Ms. Estrada said.

7. Trust your instincts

If something doesn’t feel right, ask to exit at the closest busy location. Passengers can call 911 from the Uber or Lyft apps and receive location information and the car model and license plate to share with an emergency dispatcher. Lyft and Uber are both rolling out a feature that contacts driver and passenger if a ride has stopped short of its destination or stays in one place too long, to see if emergency assistance is needed.

Ms. Lockhart also cautions riders not to accept bottles of water or other drinks from drivers. “Drug-induced sexual assault is a real danger,” she said.

8. Speak up against unsafe driving

Mr. Greening advises riders to not just buckle up, but to speak up.

“Some people feel hesitant to say anything if the driver is speeding or following other cars too closely,” he said, “but if you don’t feel safe you need to take action.”

9. Send feedback

if anything on the ride seemed amiss, like lewd comments, requests for personal information or poor driving practices, let the company know, and, if appropriate, the police as well, Ms. Lockhart said. You’ll help future riders avoid similar (or worse) experiences.

“Sexual violence is a global epidemic,” said Ms. Lockhart. “It’s unfortunate, but people who may be vulnerable have to take precautions.”

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