In an act of transparency, Uber released a report on the number of dangerous incidents that have happened in their vehicles, including sexual assault. Between the years 2017 and 2018, nearly 6,000 cases were reported. Uber does run a background check on driver applicants, and the check goes over driving history as well as criminal records. Any history of sexual assault disqualifies a driver from working for the company. However, a clean record doesn’t promise a clean future. Every criminal starts somewhere, but up until that moment had a “clean record.” So just because a driver passes Uber’s background checks, doesn’t mean riders should put their guards down when getting in cars. This is particularly true for women, as one out of three females experiences violent or sexual assault in their lifetimes.
What is a woman to do, though, when she needs to get home, and doesn’t have a car, or doesn’t currently have her car with her? It’s not as if taxis are any safer than ride-share services. The bus can be a bleak and scary place for a woman alone, especially at night. Sometimes calling for a car is the only option, and you have to look alive. Here are safety tips for women riding Uber alone.
Keep the windows down
This is a simple thing you can do to protect yourself the moment you get in the vehicle. Ask that the driver put the windows down. Say you’d like fresh air. If he will not, get out of the car. Remember that, once the windows are up, the driver can put on the child lock, making you unable to open the windows to scream for help, or crawl out at a red light. Asking that the windows are all the way down from the beginning robs a driver of a chance of trapping you inside of the vehicle. With the windows down, you can yell or climb out if you feel unsafe.
Get a female driver
While women are capable of sexual assault just as men are, female riders may feel more comfortable with a female driver. Luckily, there are several companies that only hire female drivers. These include DriveHer, and SheSafe, among others. By using these companies instead of Uber or Lyft you are not only minimizing your chances of being the victim of sexual assault, but you are also supporting female drivers. Keep in mind many drivers for these companies are also looking out for their own safety, hoping to pick up female passengers instead of male passengers, so you help a woman make a living, while feeling safe, when you call one of these cars.
Confirm the driver’s info
Always confirm the information of the driver before getting in the vehicle. Make sure it is the make, model, and license plate shown in the app. Ask what the driver’s name is, confirming they state the same name in the app. Also confirm they know your name and your destination (without your stating these facts). If anything doesn’t add up, do not get in the vehicle. Cancel the ride. Report the driver to the app immediately. Even if it is a misunderstanding and the driver needed to use a rental for the night, you cannot be held accountable (i.e. financially responsible) for canceling a ride when a car other than that in the description shows up.
Be on the phone
Take a phone call while in the car. Chat with a friend or family member. Reach out to one before your ride, stating, “I’m taking a ride alone. I would feel safe if we were on the phone. Can you be on the phone with me during this ride?” Arrange this in advance so you aren’t frantically trying to reach a friend once you’re already in the vehicle. Simply being on the phone can make a driver with bad intentions feel less confident about pulling something, knowing that there is a person on the other end of your call who will detect if something is wrong.
Share your status
Use the share status feature in the app to give friends and family live updates on your ride. It will tell them the make, model, and license plate of the vehicle, along with the driver’s name, and send coordinates of your physical location. This will be very important in the unlikely event that something does happen. A loved one can have up-to-date information on where you last were when they lost touch with you. You can also say, out loud, when getting in your car, “I’m sharing my status with a friend” so the driver knows someone is looking out for you.
Keep your finger on the emergency button
Your phone likely has an emergency button you can call that will instantly connect you to 911. You can keep your finger hovering over this button for the duration of your ride. If at any point the driver does something that makes you uncomfortable, like goes down a strange road, goes off path, or won’t let you out of the car when you ask to get out, press the button. There are also apps you can download that will alert the authorities when you’re in distress, including ones that don’t even require you to press anything.
Carry a small, visible weapon
You can get a small taser on Amazon for around $20 that will attach to your keychain, has an LED flashlight, and plugs into the wall to charge. I have a small pink one I carry when I walk my dog at night. You can also get a small self-defense spike to put on your keychain. These are legal for you to carry, and simply placing these on your lap when in a vehicle might make a driver think twice before trying anything. If you feel unsafe, keep your hand on your weapon. Make sure, if you have a taser, that it is fully charged before you head out for the night.
Sit in the back seat
Be wary of a driver who asks you to sit in the front seat. There is no reason a driver should need you within arm’s reach. If a driver insists on this, cancel the ride, and report him. The safest place for you to sit is in the back seat, but not directly behind the driver. When you’re directly behind him, you can’t entirely see what he’s doing. Sitting diagonally across from, and behind, the driver keeps you out of arm’s reach, while still giving you a view of the driver’s activities (like if he hits “ride over” on the app before your drop-off has occurred).
Don’t ride (too) drunk
Cocktails may be the very reason you need a ride. If you go out with friends and want to be a responsible drinker, you may leave your car at home, and rely on a ride-share service to get you home. If this is the case, don’t become so intoxicated that you become unaware of your whereabouts, and stop paying attention to your surroundings. You know your limits. Cap off your drinks at a point where you are still sharp and know what’s going on. If you accidentally overdo it, remain at the bar, drinking plenty of water, until you feel safe to get in a ride-share vehicle.
Pretend to puke
If you ever detect that something is amiss with your driver, and fear that alerting him to that knowledge will escalate the situation, pretend that you need to vomit. Even criminals don’t want vomit in their cars. It’s better to pretend you need to urgently vomit then to suddenly, without reason, ask the driver pull over and let you out. This may show him you’re onto him. Pretend you’re very sick and are going to blow chunks any second now. When the driver pulls over, get out, and make a run for it. Call 911 right away if the driver pursues you.