Rideshare Apps: How They Can Keep Customers Safe & Comfortable (Ankin Law)

Author: Kendall Woirhaye

Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft brand themselves as safe and convenient transportation options. Whether it is getting a ride to work, a social gathering, or a local coffee shop, customers utilize apps like Uber and Lyft regularly. Statistics from April 2019 show that Uber completes nearly 15 million rides globally per day. Lyft’s Quarter 4 2019 data showed that they have 22.9 million active users. With numbers like these, Uber and Lyft must make intentional, consistent effort to keep customers safe. While they have made improvements, such as requiring more detailed background checks for their drivers and implementing a car, license plate, and driver recognition feature to their apps, Uber and Lyft can—and should—be doing more to ensure the safety of their customers.

With Uber and Lyft continuing to grow in popularity, the need for experienced and safe rideshare drivers is ever-present. Following issues with inexperienced drivers, Uber has since required drivers “under the age of 23 [to] have at least (3) years of driving experience”. Even so, the younger and more inexperienced a driver is, the more likely they are to be involved in an accident. While the age and driving experience requirement for Uber and Lyft is similar to that of traditional taxi drivers, the difference that sets traditional taxi drivers apart is their requirement to obtain a chauffeur license or a license with a passenger endorsement. However, Uber and Lyft’s new rules keep rideshare drivers accountable by requiring them to have a social security number and car insurance in the driver’s name. These new rules are a step in the right direction towards ensuring driver accountability. 

To further ensure driver accountability, it would be in the best interest of Uber and Lyft to require drivers to have camera and audio features in and outside of their vehicle to monitor driving (speed, maneuvers, etc.) and document accidents if they occur. If the driver is at fault in the accident, it can benefit the rider and the other drivers involved. If the driver is not at fault in an accident, the camera and audio features can benefit them by providing evidence to prove the aforementioned. One criticism of camera and audio features is the price tag associated with the technology. As it stands, cameras with audio features for cars range anywhere from $50 to $200 USD. While this would entail more upfront costs for Uber and Lyft to retain drivers, the companies can approach the situation in one of two ways. First, they could require an onboarding fee for potential new drivers that would cover the cost of the camera and audio technology. Second, they could give drivers the option of providing a camera and audio system of their own. From there on, the drivers must turn on the camera and audio features before being cleared to start accepting rides. If for any reason the camera and audio system is interfered with or fails during a ride, the driver would not be permitted to accept any further rides until it is fixed. Requiring camera and audio features would hold drivers accountable for their driving, encourage them to be on their best behavior, and provide evidence if an accident were to occur. 

Building upon the need for driver accountability, Uber and Lyft need to be stricter about the complaints related to driver misconduct. While drivers conducting themselves professionally should be an expectation for customers, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and forcible rape against  customers happen at egregious rates. A New York Times Article shared that Uber reported 3,045 sexual assaults in the U.S. rides in 2019. Understanding that this figure may not be reflective of all sexual assaults that occurred since there is a disconnect between actual crimes committed and actual crimes reported, it is still an alarming number. customers deserve a safe, clean, and comfortable ride when they request one from a rideshare app. Any form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or forcible rape is absolutely unacceptable. Because of that, there needs to be a panic button feature on rideshare apps to provide a fast and efficient way for customers to contact law enforcement. Moreover, considering that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are male drivers, there needs to be an explicit option for a female driver when customers request a ride.

A panic button feature would be a low-cost and effective addition to rideshare apps. By having a panic button under one of the tabs, a rider would have the option to hold it down for 5 seconds to indicate they are in a dangerous situation and law enforcement would be contacted discreetly. Once law enforcement is contacted, the rider’s location would be shared so that law enforcement can intervene. This panic button option can not only relieve anxiety for solo customers, but deter drivers from harassing, assaulting, or raping customers since law enforcement can be contacted directly through the app. Furthermore, implementing an explicit option for a female driver when customers request a ride can help to prevent harassment, assault, and rapes. A national sexual violence survey confirmed that 90 percent of perpetrators against female victims are males and 93 percent of perpetrators against male victims are males. Giving female, male, and non-binary customers the option for a female driver can make them feel more safe and comfortable during the ride. 

Another way in which Uber and Lyft can ensure a safe and comfortable ride for customers is improving their precautions against drivers driving under the influence. Uber specifically has repeatedly failed to investigate or suspend drivers that have had complaints made against them for driving under the influence (DUI). The aforementioned panic button feature addition to rideshare apps can help customers contact law enforcement in situations where the driver appears to be under the influence. Considering that rideshare drivers, including one individual in Kane County, Illinois, have been charged with aggravated DUI in the past, steps need to be taken to prevent drivers from being able to accept rides until it is made clear that they are not under the influence. Similar to the mechanisms used for individuals with DUI convictions, it is in the best interest of Uber and Lyft to require its drivers to have ignition interlock devices (IID), commonly referred to as breathalyzers, connected to both the driver’s vehicle ignition system as well as the Uber or Lyft app. Once the driver is deemed safe to drive, only then will the Uber or Lyft app be activated for the driver to accept rides. While these do entail more upfront costs for drivers, this could also be offset by an onboarding fee.
Seeing that rideshare apps complete millions of trips each day, efforts towards keeping customers safe are well-founded and increasingly necessary. When customers request a ride from a rideshare app like Uber and Lyft, they are entitled to a safe and comfortable ride to their destination. Inexperienced drivers, accidents, sexual harassment/assault/forcible rape, and drivers driving under the influence have made the safety and comfortability of rideshare apps fall under question. However, improvements can be made by requiring camera and audio systems in and outside of the vehicle, panic button features on the app, and IIDs within the vehicle. With the lives of many people in their hands, rideshare apps must continue to hold drivers accountable and keep both drivers and customers safe.

Word Count: 1208

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