After years of promoting rideshare services as the safe alternative to drunk driving or walking home at night, Uber and Lyft are currently facing hundreds of lawsuits from users who claim the companies are partially responsible for the sexual assaults riders suffered from during their trips.
While the lawsuits have been filed in numerous states and the details in each suit vary to some degree, a common thread between the cases is that Uber’s marketing tactics and emphasis on their service’s safety may have indirectly enabled the assault of female passengers. A suit filed last year in New York alleges that Uber continued promoting their service’s safety to users despite receiving nearly 6,000 reports of sexual assault or sexual violence between 2017 and 2018 alone. The company was also forced to pay a $28.5 million dollar settlement after a class-action lawsuit raised issues with Uber labeling their background checks as “industry-leading.” Uber continued to resist and lobby against calls for stricter requirements for rideshare drivers despite these financial blows.
The mandatory arbitration process, which was eliminated in 2018, is also a cause of concern for many survivors of sexual assault suing rideshare companies. Sexual assault claims filed against Uber before 2017 were settled using a mandatory arbitration process that limits survivors’ rights to sue and typically benefits companies over survivors. These arbitrations often involved confidentiality agreements that restricted survivors’ ability to speak out about their experiences and allowed Uber to continue promoting their services as the safest transportation option. Uber is currently being sued by hundreds of passengers citing this secretive, deceptive process as evidence that the company knew about the sexual violence in their services but did not disclose these risks to the public.
In response to the growing outrage of assault survivors and consumers, Uber released their first Safety Report in December 2019. The report detailed the complaints Uber received regarding sexual assault and broke down the claims further, revealing for the first time new information about who exactly was committing the crimes during Uber rides. The most alarming statistic claimed that in 54% of cases, the driver was the accused party. News coverage and speculation regarding assault in rideshare services typically focused on the driver as the offender whereas this report revealed that passengers were also actively assaulting other passengers. The report’s findings gave rideshare users their first thorough look at the risks present in using Uber’s services.
Both Uber and Lyft have responded to lawsuits by implementing new safety features designed to protect passengers and drivers. These features include an in-app sharing service that allows passengers to share their ride with people in their phone contacts and an in-app button that immediately contacts emergency services if there is an issue during a ride. Uber also claimed to strengthen their background check policy in an effort to keep dangerous drivers out of circulation.
Rideshare services’ track record of rider endangerment demonstrates just how important it is for individuals to be responsible for their own safety. Though new safety measures are appreciated, experts still recommend rideshare users employ basic personal safety practices such as verifying your driver’s identity before getting in the car, tracking your route with your own phone, using rideshare as a group, and trusting your instincts when something doesn’t feel right. These practices will help ensure a safe ride and reduce your own risk.
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