What you need to know about assault incidents in Uber and Lyft
By Brian Kabateck
It’s hard to remember life before ridesharing apps—before a tap on your smartphone screen could show you all the available rides around you and get a driver to you in moments. A time before drivers and riders rated each other in stars, or before getting a lift meant getting a Lyft or a company name became a verb: We’re Uber-ing to the restaurant.
In 2013, California became the first state to regulate ride-hailing apps, legalizing such services as an official transportation category. The new rules meant drivers needed to obtain a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), undergo a criminal background check, pass a mandatory driver training program provided by each company, and abide by a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol and drugs.
In over a decade, ridesharing apps have changed how we get from point A to Point B, utterly transforming the travel industry. Ridesharing is simple, streamlined, convenient, affordable, and statistically safe. Uber reports that better than 99.9% of its rides are completed without incident. That’s a lot of rides:
In California, Uber and Lyft now represent 99.9% of the state’s ride-hailing business. Uber makes over 14 million trips daily in the United States and 23 million worldwide. There are over 1.5 million Uber drivers in the U.S. Globally, 7.64 billion trips were taken with Uber in 2022., up from 5.21 billion in 2018.
With numbers that size, however, it’s essential to realize that even a tiny percentage of trips in which something goes wrong represents a startling number.
In 2019, according to the New York Times, Uber’s first safety report revealed that in the previous two years (2017-18), individuals reported 5,981 incidents of sexual assault in their vehicles in the U.S. Nineteen people were murdered in Ubers during the same period. In 2019, 19 women filed a joint lawsuit against Lyft, “saying they had been sexually assaulted during rides arranged by the company,” the Times reported.
A subsequent safety study conducted by Uber found 3,824 sexual assaults reported in 2019-20, and 20 people were killed. Although that decrease is good news, it is also true that overall ridership was down dramatically due to the pandemic during that period. Still, the company says assault incidents decreased by 38%.
When studying safety, Uber looks at five separate categories of sexual assault, including nonconsensual kissing, attempted rape, and rape. “Nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part” accounted for the highest number of reports. The study found an approximate split between drivers and riders in assessing victims and perpetrators across the five categories. In 56% of cases, drivers were accused of assault, compared to riders at 43%.
Many passengers have sued Uber and Lyft, alleging the companies failed to prevent and investigate assaults, according to a Los Angeles Times report in July 2022.
Mission Local recently found that many rideshare drivers, fearing they will be victims of violence, carry a defense weapon in the car when on the job—a fact that may feel rather unsettling for passengers.
“Uber has made efforts to reshape its image,” the New York Times said in the summer of 2022, and to reassure the public that it is safe to hail a ride through the app. “Releasing safety data has been a key component of that makeover.”
Uber reports that over half a million prospective drivers failed the screening test in 2019-20 and that 80,000 drivers were taken off the app due to the company’s ongoing review of criminal records.
State governments are also getting more involved. “Nine years after becoming the first agency in the nation to legalize ride-hailing — and after thousands of publicized sexual assaults on Uber and Lyft rides — the California Public Utilities Commission, for the first time, is requiring the industry to adopt comprehensive measures to prevent such attacks,” the Los Angeles Times said in summer 2022. Ride-hailing companies must now:
- Train drivers to “avoid sexual assault and harassment”
- Implement official procedures to investigate complaints
- Use standardized terminology for assault and harassment reports
Last month, the state of Illinois passed new legislation aimed at protecting rideshare passengers. The new law, championed by Senator Rob Martwick, makes rideshare companies subject to the common carrier doctrine, which holds all transportation companies to the highest standard of passenger care and enables the state to hold rideshare companies liable for harm caused by their drivers.
While the number of assault incidents may represent only a tiny fraction of the billions of total rides, that is little comfort to those victims —and it raises a terrifying prospect for those hailing a ride.
How can you protect yourself when using ridesharing apps? 11 expert tips.
- Request and wait for your ride in a safe, busy, well-lit place—inside if possible.
- Be sure you’re getting in the correct car. Confirm the car’s model, license plate, driver’s photo, and PIN verification match the information in the app. Then, instead of telling the driver your name, ask who they’re there to pick up.
- Check the doors to make sure child locks are not engaged and you can exit at will.
- Choose your seat wisely. Sit in the back seat on the passenger’s side. It may be a red flag if the driver tries to dictate where you sit.
- Share your trip information with a friend or family member. If you feel afraid or uncomfortable during your ride, let the driver know you have shared the information.
- Call a friend at the start of your ride (or leave yourself a voicemail) so your driver hears you say, for example, Hi, I just got in a Lyft on Main St. I’ll see you in 15 minutes.
- Map your route. Track your journey in a maps app to ensure your driver stays on the correct route.
8 Ride sober and alert.
- Try to avoid riding alone. Travel with a companion if possible.
- Trust your gut if you feel threatened or sense something is “off.”
- Uber and Lyft both provide emergency buttons in the app that will instantly share your trip info.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse you must learn more about your legal rights to receive compensation. Give one of our experienced personal injury attorneys at Kabateck LLP a call today to learn more about recovering damages and to explore your options. We can help you achieve the maximum compensation for the harm you or a loved one has suffered.