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Driving by Strangers is the New Normal Thanks to Uber, Lyft, and other Ride-Share Options

It’s hard to imagine a world where ride-share apps and opportunities didn’t exist, but after thinking back to my freshmen year of college, I realized these had yet to be a reality. Currently, ride-shares offer a common and more wide-spans “carpool” system to more than millions of people daily. In fact, Forbes found that many millennials were opting to cash-in on transportation methods by Uber and Lyft more than investing in their own personal cars. In a subsection of the American citizenry that makes up around 30% of the nation’s population, only 17% of this population invested in a personal vehicle. When these Uber and Lyft participants opt-out of their own private transportation, do they sacrifice their safety to do so?

Unfortunately, it seems many people who took this risk also paid the price. According to Uber’s own anxiously awaited self-study, 3,000 riders experienced sexual assaults in one year alone. Similarly, Lyft has instances of local news stories all around the nation with women having unwanted sexual encounters. Even worse, there is a strong overlap of drivers who drive for both companies which makes tracking down the sexual assault encounters even more difficult. 

While stories continue to accumulate each year, these ride-share applications have come to realize stricter measures need to be in place in order to protect the safety of weary, intoxicated, or car-less passengers. The continuous process of analyzing and fixing issues associated with safety and ease of travel are actively being monitored and altered. New updates and safety precautions happen at a rapid rate in which most riders do not even recognize or can tell the difference. Habitual users might miss these key improvements due to their consistent usage. 

While the two companies both function in similar manners, the driving corporations differ in their safety precautions regarding both drivers and passengers. According to Lyft’s safety policies regarding age, driver requirements, vehicle requirements, and background check qualifications, these requirements vary depending on the state and area drivers operate. While steps are being taken in order to prevent any physical and mental damage to riders, the inconsistency and reliance on state protocols leave gaps for misconduct. These holes in their overall safety procedures allow drivers to continue their malicious practices, depending on how flexible or lax certain jurisdictions are on certain criminal activities. Additionally, on Lyft’s background check requirements, they claim they need the potential drivers’ consent to conduct a background check. The application does not mention what happens if the potential driver denies this check. This gray area could also cause some concerns about safety practices regarding drivers. 

Although there is certainly room for improvement in narrowing the gap between states and regions to the overall national well-being of riders, Lyft is still taking steps in the right direction. For example, Lyft now hides both the rider and the driver’s distinguishing factors, such as a phone number, and uses calling and messaging directly in the app. Furthermore, Lyft also has a share ride option that allows riders to send real-time tracking features to a friend or family member. Lyft themselves even participate in this safety measure by tracking the length of the ride or unusually long stops at a destination and reaches out to both the driver and the rider to make sure everything is okay. If the concern arises, Lyft will then offer the rider or driver the option to request emergency assistance.  Knowing these measures are being taken does provide a rider and driver with the assurance that Lyft is aware of the safety problem concerning ride-sharing services and is attempting to provide a safer experience. 

Notably, Uber still has a large way to go in order to provide peace of mind to ride-share users, as a shocking number of sexual assaults and sexual misconduct occur while taking Uber rides. In recent years, Uber’s attorneys across the nation have had to handle civil and personal injury cases due to Uber’s lack of security and failure to provide an overall positive trip. In comparison to the mentioned steps, Lyft completes before, during, and after the user’s experience with the provider, Uber has some similarities and some stark differences. Likewise, Uber also hides the rider’s phone number and only allows in-app messaging and calling. Additionally, Uber also allows the option to share rides with others and provides an emergency call option if passengers feel unsafe. Sadly, the differences between both companies are noticeable. They call their service line RideCheck which can be used during the ride but only mentions help if a possible crash occurred or if the drive appears to be off-course but lacks Lyft’s concern for extended lengths of time. Uber is also vague on its descriptions of background checks such as searching for criminal records and alcohol-related offenses. They also mentioned a multi-step screening but fail to mention in-depth what these steps of the screenings entail. Unlike Lyft, Uber’s emergency response from an Uber representative only checks-in after the ride which could potentially allow misconduct to occur before Uber even follows up on the situation. This delay in communication could cause disastrous opportunities for violations of rider safety. While Lyft is more informative regarding what goes into picking a driver and providing a safe experience, Uber does well on disseminating information regarding female-focused assaults awareness and is transparent in their missteps in previous years. Uber publicly displays their analysis and statistics, no matter how unsettling these facts are, unlike Lyft who decides to not disclose their internal research about these issues. However, in similar methods, both Uber and Lyft are pairing up with sexual assault awareness platforms and organizations. Both companies partner with Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) in order to combat the known issues of sexual violence during their rides. Uber also works with Futures Without Violence and Call to Men. These efforts are valiant moves in recognizing their past mistakes and paving a path for a better riding journey for all users of the applications.

Due to the widespread knowledge of Lyft and Uber’s past misfortunes with corrupt drivers, news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times are spreading awareness and strategy as well on how to stay safe during these short shared commutes. In the New York Times article, the author provides insightful tips not only on how to be a better rider but also smart tips for riders and their safety. By sitting directly behind the driver, there is less opportunity for him or her to reach the rider and thus less incident of inappropriate touching or eyeing. Similarly in a USA Today post, official Lyft and Uber drivers have a glowing emblem openly displayed to future riders. While this is not a complete safeguard that the driver is an upright citizen, it at least clearly identifies themself with their corresponding ride-share employer. Another important note for all riders is to always, if possible, travel with more than just themselves. There is strength and safety in numbers which disables the opportunity for foul play. Although these insightful tips help provide a more secure transport to a new destination, these are only small solutions for a larger issue. 

For full eradication of sexual violence and overall disruptions during a ride, there is room for improvement by all ride-share applications. A more thorough background check and letting riders know ahead of time the driver’s clearance of their background each and every ride is a step in the right direction. Additionally, letting users inspect past reviews of drivers and flagging of any mentions of triggering words such as ‘violent, inappropriate, rape, or unsafe’ would allow riders the freedom to opt-out of that particular trip. While it is noted that Lyft and Uber are consistently updating their safety procedures, they should continue to provide insights to users about any negative and harmful rides in the past for all potential riders. Only then will users be able to fully evaluate if the sacrifice of a car and their privacy is truly worth it.

– Haley C.

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