Chance favors the prepared!

Safety and security tips for Uber

Uber (Uber Technologies Inc.) is an American multinational on-line transportation network company headquartered in San Francisco, California. It develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app. This app allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars. As of May 2016, the service was available in over 66 countries and 449 cities worldwide.

Uber was founded as “UberCab” by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009. The app was released the following June. Beginning in 2012, Uber expanded internationally. In 2014, it experimented with carpooling features and made other updates.

Uber processes all payments involved, charging the passenger’s credit card. Uber takes a cut for itself (which ranges from 5% to 20%), and direct depositing the remaining money into the driver’s account. This makes all transactions completely cashless. (Although riders can give tips.) So it is a great convenience for both the rider and driver!

Although Uber is considered a safe mode of transportation, there have been instances where an Uber driver or someone posing as an Uber driver have perpetrated crimes against unsuspecting clients. (And vice versa.) So I wanted to give you the latest security and safety tips that can help prevent you from becoming a victim.

Security and Safety Concerns

Although Uber is considered to be a safe alternative to taxis and limos, there are risks (just like with anything.) In some cases, criminal activity has been associated with Uber rides. These include sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping. Students, single women and intoxicated riders seem to be the greatest at risk.

For example, in February of last year, a Boston Uber driver was arrested for indecent assault and battery of a woman. A 30-year-old Boston woman told police that she and three friends had summoned an Uber ride. After her friends were dropped off, the woman remained in the car to go to a separate location and during that time, the driver touched her inappropriately several times, according to police.

A 32-year-old Uber driver has been charged with assault in the third degree, strangulation and disorderly conduct after an incident that occurred in May on the University of Delaware campus.

Most all Uber transactions are safe, so these incidents are exceptions to the rule. Still, knowing what steps to take to ensure your safety is important.

Drivers for Uber must be at least 21 years of age and have:

  • Access to a 4-door vehicle that is 2006 or newer in most cities
  • An in-state auto insurance policy with the driver’s name on the policy
  • A social security number
  • An in-state driver’s license, licensed in the US for at least one year
  • In-state plates with current registration
  • To be able to pass a background and driving records check

Staying Safe while “Ubering”

Verify the identity of the driver and their car before you get in

jim-carrey-lloyd-christmas-dumb-and-dumberThe Uber app provides riders with their driver’s first name, photo, license plate number, a photo of the vehicle in which they will be picking up the customer, the driver’s rating and the driver’s expected time of arrival. This information is intended to prevent riders from getting in a car with a fake driver.

Criminals who attempt to pose as Uber drivers often use areas where people are waiting for an Uber such as airports, outside of bars and restaurants, tourist attractions and other areas with large groups of people.

They will slowly drive along the curb or stop and make eye contact with unsuspecting riders who ask, “are you my Uber driver”, which, of course, leads to the bad guy responding, “yes I am; please get in.” Unlike taxis, an Uber vehicle has no visible markings.

Although Uber drivers must complete a comprehensive background and criminal check, there have been instances where a driver will share his/her driver account and phone with a friend, roommate or even a stranger in exchange for money or a “commission” on all sales. This enables a person to pick you up who IS NOT an Uber company-vetted driver (which requires the driver to successfully complete a background investigation and criminal records check).

So, before you get into a vehicle, make sure it matches the make, model, and license plate number of the Uber you hailed. Also check that the driver’s face you were sent matches the driver who picked you up. When the driver arrives, ask the driver their name to make sure it matches the name you were sent.

Wait inside for your ride to come

Another precaution built into the Uber app is notification of the driver’s arrival. If you are waiting for an Uber at night or in a secluded area, wait inside or in a well-lit populated area until you are texted of the Uber’s arrival. That way, you stay safe until the Uber arrives and don’t fall victim to an Uber imposter or street criminal.

Once you verify the identity of the driver and vehicle, do the following: 

Check the Condition of the VehicleBarris8

Since Uber drivers are driving their own vehicles, be sure to check the condition of the car before you get in. If anything looks off, like a flat tire, large damage, or strange noises coming from the engine, be sure to ask your driver about it.

When in doubt, simply let the driver know you don’t feel comfortable and ask for a different driver. Uber does state on their website that the average year of the vehicles of their drivers is 2008 with nothing older than 2000. 

Assess the Driver

While Uber does background and driver history checks on all of their drivers, that doesn’t always mean your driver is going to be in tip-top shape every time they drive. Be sure to talk to the driver to assess what kind of condition he or she is in. If you feel uncomfortable at all, whether they seem very tired, agitated, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, ask to get another driver. It might seem rude at the time, but safety always needs to come first.

Put on Your Seat-belt

Even if the car is brand new and the driver is in great condition for driving, you can’t control what other vehicles will do. Be sure to always wear your seat-belt in every vehicle you travel in. You never know when you will be in an accident and a seat belt will keep you much safer if you do get into one. 

Keep in touch with friends or family

While the Uber app gives riders the information they need to verify their driver’s identity, riders are also able to notify their own contacts about their whereabouts in case of emergency. Using the app (“Share your ETA”), you can also share your route information and estimated time of arrival with a friend or family member. In this way, using your link, they can track your trip’s progress and make sure you are safe. 

Take note of the driver’s rating on the app

Another feature of the Uber app is a rating system that allows riders and drivers to rate each other. Security experts say this system discourages any problem behavior on both the passenger and driver side of the Uber experience.

Stay Aware of Where you are Going

Uber allows you to track your progress on the app while you are in the car, so you can see where you are in relation to where you are going and the route you are taking. If the driver doesn’t seem to be driving where you think you should be going, ask him or her why that is and what their intended route is.

Maintain situational awareness.

If it seems like they are heading somewhere that is not in the direction of where you want to be, suggest a more direct route. If you are feeling uncomfortable at all, ask to be let out at a safe place and get another driver.

Understand the risk

The fine print of Uber’s terms and conditions clearly says that passengers accept a risk by using the service.

“You understand, therefore, that by using the application and the service, you may be exposed to transportation that is potentially dangerous, offensive, harmful to minors, unsafe or otherwise objectionable…and that you use the application and the service at your own risk.”

Regulations for taxi companies vary from city to city. But all cab companies, unlike Uber drivers, must have liability insurance of at least $250,000. This means that most taxi companies also have a backup umbrella policy to cover rare occurrences. So things like a passenger slipping on ice or being attacked by a driver are covered.

Tips for Women

Women who are travelling alone may want to take some extra precautions when using Uber. So here are a few tips for you:

  • Remove your profile photo in the app; you don’t need it
  • If you are heading home, have the driver drop you off at a location or address near your home so he won’t know your actual physical address
  • Sit directly behind the driver to prevent any unnecessary and unwanted banter or advances
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged before you get into the vehicle in the event you need to call for help
  • If you are unsure of the driver for any reason, or if the conversation makes you uncomfortable, ask the driver to stop, or get out of the vehicle, or ask the driver to let you off. If the driver won’t, immediately call 911.

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Preparedness tips from a veteran police officer
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