Uber is introducing a new slate of safety features to its app in an effort to ensure user safety.
Riders can now contact a safety agent with ADT Security Services while using the Uber app, via call or text, to monitor the trip and reach out to 911 on the users’ behalf with details like license plate number, GPS location, and the car’s make and model. The new feature, which is intended for situations that might cause discomfort but don’t necessarily require emergency assistance, is available now in all 50 states and D.C. (except for the city of Milwaukee, which doesn’t allow third-party 911 calls; but users there can text or call 911 on their own behalf). It’s more about giving riders “peace of mind,” as Uber explained in a statement.
Uber is also expanding its in-app feature that allows riders to directly text 911, with the app filling in key trip details (the vehicle, location, and destination). Uber piloted the service in 2019 in Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Indiana, and will now be rolling it out to nearly 60% of the U.S. where the technology is supported for 911 centers to receive texts, including all of California and New York City,
All the new features are part of the company’s reworked safety tool kit, which will now be displayed more prominently within the app. Facing criticism over how it handled assault incidents, Uber has been focusing on building features to help assuage users’ safety concerns. In June, the company published its second safety report, which shared data around the most serious safety incidents that were reported on the platform from 2019 through 2020.
“Although the impact of COVID-19 on sexual assault generally remains unclear, data from various federal sources show a significant increase in violent crime during the pandemic, including murder, which according to the CDC increased nearly 30% in 2020,” Uber chief legal officer Tony West said in a blog post accompanying the report. “Government data also revealed that 2020 was the deadliest year on American roads since 2007, as a result of a rise in risky behaviors, such as drunk driving, speeding, and not wearing a seat belt. Uber’s platform was not immune to those broader trends.”
Uber said that during the two-year period, it received 3,824 reports of what it classifies as the five most severe categories of sexual assault, which range from “nonconsensual kissing of a nonsexual body part” to rape. That was a 38% decrease from its first safety report (covering 2017 and 2018), but it’s unclear whether the pandemic’s decrease in rides contributed to the lower figure. In that same time period, 20 people were killed in assaults and 101 died in crashes.