Calling A Car To Get Home Tonight? Here's How To Stay Safe

If you're talking on the phone to someone else while in a car, be aware of what information you are sharing – and what can be overheard.

March 05, 2019

Photo by: Michael Hancock [Denver Police Department]; Fabian Duranzo [La Paz County Sheriff's Office]

Michael Hancock [Denver Police Department]; Fabian Duranzo [La Paz County Sheriff's Office]

By: Catherine Townsend

From the Uber driver in Denver who fatally shot his passenger on the freeway to the fatal stabbing of a pregnant Lyft driver in Arizona, the dangers of rideshares — for passengers and drivers — are well known.

Uber driver Michael A. Hancock (above, left) was charged with first-degree murder after he allegedly fatally shot a passenger on Interstate 25 in Denver following a dispute.

Another Uber driver, 45-year-old Jason Dalton, made headlines after going on a shooting spree in between picking up passengers in Michigan. Police say Dalton shot victims in three different locations and allegedly picked up at least one fare in the middle of his massacre.

A passenger who was in Dalton’s vehicle in Kalamazoo gave a terrifying account of how Dalton received a call and began driving erratically before the rider managed to escape. According to Uber, Dalton had previously passed a background check.

In Tempe, Arizona, Kristina Howato, 39, dropped off her Lyft fare, Fabian Duranzo (above, right) , at an apartment complex located shortly after 1 A.M., police said in a statement.

Duranzo, 20, then allegedly turned on Howato and began stabbing her with a kitchen knife. She escaped the vehicle and the suspect continued stabbing her before stealing her vehicle and fleeing the scene. Howato was taken to a hospital where she and her unborn baby were pronounced dead. Howato had been in her third trimester of pregnancy.

And experts say that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg — because many robberies, brutal assaults, and rapes are not reported.

A 2018 investigation by CNN found that 103 Uber drivers in the U.S. have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the past four years. They found that 31 drivers had been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape, and dozens of criminal and civil cases still pending.

The news channel interviewed a woman in Miami who used an Uber after a night out, passed out in the vehicle, and woke up in her bed with her underwear on the floor after allegedly being assaulted by the driver. She told CNN that rideshares give users a false sense of safety, but in reality are like “hitchhiking with strangers.”

So how can riders — and drivers — stay safe while using rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft? Experts recommend several safety tips.

Share Your Trip With Others
When traveling alone, sharing your route with others is an easy, fast way to make sure that someone knows where you are going.

When you press the "Share My ETA" and "Send ETA" options, the person you share your trip with will get a notification to his or her phone. They can follow along using GPS — and, once you have arrived at your destination, it's also good policy to let them know that you arrived safely.

Use A Code Word
Pick a code word (or emoji, like a hat or something else random) that you share with friends and family. When you send a text to friends and family, always include it. That way, if you don't, they will be alerted that something is wrong — or that someone else could be sending a text from your phone.

Be Aware During Personal Conversations
If you’re talking on the phone to someone else while in a car, be aware of what information you are sharing — and what can be overheard. You don’t want the driver to know that you just got into a fight with your boyfriend and that no one is home, or that you are crying and in a highly emotional state.

Make Sure You Are Getting In With The Right Driver
Anyone can put an Uber sticker on their car, and there have been cases where victims have been assaulted by people posing as rideshare drivers. So before you jump in, verify that your driver is the right person. Ask them who they are there for, make sure that they say your name and verify the destination. Also check their photo and license plate, and make sure that they match the information you have on your app.

Sit In The Back Seat
Sitting in the back seat offers a barrier of protection between you and the driver, and also an element of privacy if you are talking on the phone. Experts say that many reported assaults have targeted passengers sitting in the front seat.

Be Aware Of — & Beware Of — Fellow Passengers
A New York City woman says she was punched in the face by a fellow passenger after she ordered a Lyft Line, a type of carpool option offered by the rideshare service where the driver is allowed to pick up other passengers along the way.

Because drivers are not allowed to release information on passengers, the NYPD says they must subpoena this information — and the victim says that she’s having to fight to get justice.

In response to the incident, a Lyft spokesperson told NBC New York in a statement: "These allegations are extremely concerning. From day one, the safety of the Lyft community has been our top priority. We have deactivated both passengers while we investigate, and have reached out to the investigating officer to offer our assistance."

If a fellow passenger is causing problems, consider asking the driver to stop and let you out in a safe spot rather than confronting them.

Never Say You Live Alone
This goes hand in hand with not revealing too much personal information. Jeanne Christensen, an attorney quoted for the CNN story who has pursused Uber rape and assault cases since 2015, said that many women who came to her to report sexual assault had some things in common: They were female and petite, had been under the influence at the time they took the Uber — and tended to live alone.

Stay Aware During The Drive
After sharing your trip, make sure to keep the trip tracker on throughout the ride and continue to check your surroundings. This will make it easier to see whether you are headed toward — or away from — your final destination before it’s too late.

For Drivers: Be Aware Of In-App Safety Features & Use Them
Riders aren't the only ones who can be put in danger during a drive. Drivers are routinely subjected to abuse and assault, as shown in the video of the drunken Taco Bell executive in a video that went viral.

Uber offers drivers an in-app emergency assistance button that displays location and trip details and calls local authorities.

Use Taxi Driver Methods
Sadly, rideshare drivers do not currently receive the same defensive training that taxi drivers get. However, there are a few safety tips that they can pick up from them.

Seasoned taxi drivers are taught that when a passenger gets belligerent, the driver should pull over, stop the car and exit the car, taking the keys with them. That way, they can avoid being attacked from behind.

Change Is Good
Rideshare companies are aware of the safety issues, and they are responding: Uber has launched safety guidelines. In addition to the ability to designate up to five friends and family members as Trusted Contacts, Uber now reminds riders to share trip details with those contacts during every ride.

They are also launching real-time 911 assistance, and have announced that they will run background checks each year, even when not legally required to do so.

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