Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have become a common form of transportation for many Americans. From small towns to big cities, we’ve come to count on these convenient rides that take us where we need to go.
But the March 2019 death of a South Carolina college student who mistakenly got into a car she thought was her Uber ride has raised the question, “Is Uber safe?” Especially for female passengers.
Since this tragic incident, Uber and Lyft have both issued public statements committing to better and more frequent communication with riders in an effort to help customers identify their drivers and vehicles in a safe and timely manner.
Sadly, this case is not the first time we’ve seen reports about impostors trying to lure people into vehicles by posing as rideshare drivers.
So is Uber safe? Both Uber and its competitor Lyft require their drivers to undergo background checks and provide an up-to-date driver’s license. Anyone who wants to be an Uber or Lyft driver must be at least 21 years old and have a minimum of one year experience as a licensed driver (three for those under 23). Drivers must also have a clean criminal record without any major driving violations.
In this article, we’ll take a look at a series of safety tips you can use to make sure you’re safe before, during, and after using Uber or any other ride-hailing service.
Stay in a Safe Area Until Your Uber Arrives
If you’re getting ready to leave a location and are using a ridesharing app to get home, stay inside the building or with your friends until you’re notified by the Uber app that your vehicle has arrived. It’s much easier for criminals and predators to target a single person.
Remember: You have a window of time once your Uber arrives to locate the vehicle. In most cases, the driver will contact you either by a phone call or text via the Uber app. By doing this, the driver will verify their identity. If you’re unsure if a vehicle is your Uber or just a random person, there’s no need to greet a driver first. Let them contact you.
Before you open the door of a vehicle, be sure you’ve checked the name and photo of the driver profile in your app with the person driving the car. Again, if you’re unsure, take your time and don’t feel rushed. It’s OK to ask questions.
Match the Vehicle and License Plate to Your Uber App
Even when you’re in a hurry, don’t neglect checking the vehicle and verifying that it matches the one on your Uber app. Uber and Lyft provide you the driver’s name and photo, as well as the make, model, and color of the vehicle with the corresponding license plate number.
Once you’re able to match the information on your Uber app to the vehicle in front of you, check the estimated time of arrival (ETA) of the driver on the app. Does the ridesharing app say that your driver is ready for pick-up? Does the ETA match?
To help passengers and drivers find each other, both Uber and Lyft are creating quick and easy ways to identify your car — bright dash lights with their logos is one way. In the case of some cars, you’ll even see a light with your name on it.
This is especially helpful if your Uber vehicle is a common make and model. In many states and cities, rideshare drivers are now required to provide signage visible to patrons and law enforcement.
Stay in Touch With Friends
Using the buddy system is an easy way to stay safe when ridesharing even if you’re traveling solo. By contacting a friend before, during, and after your ride, you ensure that someone else automatically knows if you haven’t reached your destination or if you might need help.
Both Uber and Lyft have “share status” features that allow you to text your GPS location, route, and ETA to others. If you’re heading home to a family member, they can track your progress the entire way. If a friend knows you’re leaving the bar, they can watch your Uber car in real time.
Know Your Route Ahead of Time
Do you know where you’re going in the first place? Most ridesharing routes fit into one of two categories — routine destinations in a familiar place and new travel. You’re either taking an Uber to a destination you’ve been to a thousand times before, or you’re heading to a new place where you don’t recognize the area. But you can improve the safety of both types of trips by simply staying alert.
For routine destinations it’s important to pay attention to the path your Uber driver takes. While many of us are tempted to zone out or check our phones during an Uber ride, resist the urge to be complacent. Ask questions about the trip details if you feel like your Uber driver is taking a strange route. If you feel you’re on a route that’s unnecessarily long or out of the way for no reason, immediately ask the driver to change directions or stop the vehicle.
Whether you’re on vacation, a business trip, or just heading to a place you’ve never been, you can still monitor your route from the back seat of a rideshare. The easiest way to do this is to use your own navigation app, or just Google the destination.
By checking the location of your destination before you get in your Uber, you’ll know which direction your rideshare should be headed. And it’s completely acceptable to ask an Uber or taxi driver why they’re taking a particular route, even in New York City.
Be Careful What You Share With Your Uber Driver
Uber drivers are working hard to earn tips, so chances are they’ll want to provide friendly conversation. That’s totally fine, but remember you don’t have to share any information you don’t want to.
Friendly conversation is great, but there’s no reason to tell a rideshare driver you’re going home to an empty house, or exactly how many days you’ll be at a particular hotel. The less a stranger knows about your logistics, the better. The best safety feature you can create is often your own silence. Being aloof sometimes means being safe.
What you share also includes where you’re going in an Uber. If you feel uncomfortable about a driver dropping you off at home (and thus knowing where you live), you can do something about it. Uber and Lyft allow you to change your destination during a ride, erasing the previous address from the driver’s information. Or you can simply provide an address that is near your location rather than the exact address.
And remember: If you feel threatened, call 911. Just because you’re in the back seat of a moving car doesn’t mean that police can’t help.
Is Uber Safe? Using the Rating System Can Help Other Passengers
Uber’s rating system is carefully maintained to promote good drivers and provide them with more business. As a passenger, your ratings help determine that status. Speak up if you feel uncomfortable. Is the driver asking an inappropriate or personal question? Use the Uber app to report that behavior in your rating. You don’t have to be physically threatened to feel uneasy, but Uber can’t address the situation if you don’t provide that information.
Remember: When you post a complaint or a review, your information is sent directly to the ridesharing service, not the driver.
Uber Is Much Safer When You Stay Alert
No form of transportation can offer the promise of being totally safe, but both Uber and Lyft have remained committed to increasing the right kind of communication between the rideshare apps and riders throughout the process, and respecting the privacy of riders.
Reports of criminals posing as rideshare drivers always start the same way: mistaken identity on the part of the rider.
If you use Uber every day, chances are you’re used to jumping in a car without giving it much thought. But that’s giving yourself a false sense of security. Whenever you order an Uber, stop and give yourself time to identify the vehicle by its license plate number and the driver by their name and photo.
When you’re on the ride, notify a friend or family member of your route and estimated arrival time, and stay in touch with them once your ride is over to let them know if you arrived safely. And be cautious about any personal information you share with your driver, especially if you’re alone.
Uber can be safe, or at least a lot safer, when you remain aware of your surroundings, communicate with your friends and family, and use the rating system to report any strange behavior after the ride is over. Follow these guidelines and you’ll enjoy safe travels on the road.