Recent news reports have focused on the potential dangers of using Uber, particularly the danger of sexual assault. Critics assert that Uber does not do enough to screen drivers, exposing customers to people with histories of violent crime. Uber countered that these incidents occurred before the background check system they currently use. Others further argue that the same danger is present when using a cab or shuttle service, noting that Uber’s app actually makes it safer than traditional public transportation.
Uber is a necessary service for those of us who either cannot afford a car or cannot drive. It’s the perfect solution when you depend on the bus, but it’s late and you don’t want to wait for one alone, or you have an appointment and would have to sit in the lobby for forty-five minutes because the next bus would make you late. Uber is an even greater blessing for those who have difficulty making it to a bus stop.
Most people know how Uber works, but just in case you haven’t used it yet, it’s an opportunity for individuals to turn their cars into efficient cabs. In order to use Uber, you first sign up for a rider account on www.uber.com. Then you download the Uber app on your phone and sign in. Anytime you need to go anywhere, just tap the app. It will open to a map and the question “Where to?” Tap that question, fill in the place you need to go, and let the app find you your ride. It will show you a picture of the driver and the car, the car’s make and model, the license plate number, and the estimated time of arrival, usually less than ten minutes.
Uber is tracking you through your phone, and the driver through their device every minute you are in the car. This is an important safety feature, and the detail that makes using an Uber more like taking a cab than simply climbing into a car with a stranger. But it is still important to take safety precautions when you use Uber.
Wait for your ride in a safe place.
The Uber website suggests calling for your ride inside and waiting there until the app alerts you that the driver is about to arrive.
Sometimes, waiting inside is not practical. You may be leaving a crowded doctor’s office waiting room that needs the chairs for people coming in to wait for their appointments, or a shopping mall that makes it difficult to see a car pulling up from inside. If you have to wait outside, wait in a public, well-lighted area, and stay as close to an unlocked door back into the building as possible.
When your driver is due to arrive at a public pick up spot, a little light icon on your screen will tell you to hold up your phone so your driver can match the color on the screen with the color they are given to identify you. This ensures that the correct person gets in their car.
Check the license plate rather than simply matching the driver’s photo or the make and color of the car.
The driver’s photo should be only your first clue. There are several people whose photos tend not to look much like them. Pictures taken in odd lighting, or the driver twitching or flinching while being photographed could have distorted the image a bit. A car’s make isn’t up for interpretation. It’s either a Honda or a Dodge or it isn’t. But there are a lot of people with the same car, and the shade one person describes as “dark red” might be “burgundy” to another person’s eyes. Make sure to read the license plate number on your phone’s screen and match it to the number on the car before you approach the door.
As you walk up the car, wait for the driver to say your name before you get in.
This is a final safety step for both you and the driver. You are getting into the car with them, and they are letting someone into the car. They do not know you any more than you know them. Confirming your name is a way to let everyone know that both people are who they are supposed to be.
Watch where you’re going as you ride.
The driver is getting paid to drive you someplace, and they have a gps system with minute by minute instructions as to where to turn, and when to drop you off. You should not have to give directions or tell them to stop the car. It is still important to remain alert as to where you are going and what is going on in and around the vehicle. It’s perfectly fine to chat with the driver if both of you wish to talk, but avoid putting on headphones or falling asleep. Keep your phone out, with your Uber app open.
Know where the emergency button is on your app
Look for a little blue shield on your screen. This icon is where you will tap if you need to summon the police to track the car down at any point. You do not need to push it to activate it ahead of time. Just know where it is and keep your phone in your hand with the app open so you can push it if you need it.
Sit in the back seat and be prepared to handle your seatbelt and belongings yourself.
If you are the only passenger, or one of two, sit in the back seat of the driver’s car. This keeps some distance between you and the driver during the ride, and makes it much more difficult for the driver to touch you. Fasten your own seat belt. If the driver’s seat belt does not work well, they might offer to help you. Tell them you are fine. Never let a stranger lean over you with their arm and hand in reach of your neck. Keep your bags, keys, phone, and other personal belongings with you, not in the front seat of the car next to the driver.
Keep vigilant for red flags in the driver’s behavior
You are going to like some Uber drivers and not care for others. Some may be sullen, or overly chatty, or maybe you just don’t want to hear about last night’s football game or fishing, or parent-teacher night at a school three towns away, and that’s all they want to talk about. That is just a normal part of meeting new people. But if the driver seems hostile or angry, or if the person appears to be disregarding the instructions on the app, starts telling you they’re going someplace else, or brings up a topic that is disturbing or scary rather than just uninteresting, speak up.
Tell the person you forgot something, cancel the ride, wait a bit, and call another driver if they make you feel frightened or uneasy at any point. You are allowed to stop the ride and get out of the person’s car at any time. If the driver refuses to stop and let you out of the car, summon the police.