Uber’s New “Text 911” Feature A Game-Changer for Ride-Sharing

Published on October 29, 2019

With the increasing number of reports involving ride-sharing safety incidents, Uber announced its latest safety feature, debuting the “text-to-911” feature within the mobile application in Los Angeles. The feature allows both drivers and riders to text “911” in case of an emergency.

Ride-Sharing Is Getting Safer

Both riders and drivers can access this feature located in Uber’s Safety Toolkit and discreetly text the authorities. This update is expanding the emergency 911 call feature added to the app last year.

We know that in an emergency, every second counts,” said Sachin Kansal, Uber’s Senior Director of Product Management. “…the combination of being able to text 911 through the app and being able to send the exact location through the Uber app is an absolute game-changer, and law enforcement professionals tell us that this can potentially save lives.”

The “Text-to-911” Button

Once a user accesses the text-to-911 button, the app will draft a text message, provide a description of the vehicle, the car’s license plate, current location, and destination. The driver or rider can also add a description of the incident.

Added Safety Features

Uber also said it will eventually include a four-digit-code security feature. The rider and driver will receive a code and will need to confirm the codes match so riders are getting in the correct vehicle.

The driver will only be able to start your trip in the app once the correct PIN has been entered,” Uber said in an announcement. “We’re also developing new technology that uses ultrasound waves to automatically verify you’re in the right car, no PIN needed.”

One Victim Too Far Many

While these features add to the expanding catalog of ride-sharing safety measures Uber is taking, physical and sexual assault, kidnapping, DUI fatalities still pose a huge problem. CNN documented 103 cases of Uber drivers accused of sexual assault or abuse between 2014-2018.

Like a woman in San Diego who passed out during her Uber ride home, after going out and having a couple of cocktails, and woke up to the sight of her Uber driver raping her. She was able to escape and call 911.

Or a Long Island teenager who ordered an Uber in July and her driver tried to force her into his home “where he intended to sexually assault her,” according to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. She also escaped and called the authorities.

The Market Is Demanding Ride-Sharing Safety

Although a background check is conducted once a driver signs up, there is still one key issue that acts as the company’s Achilles heel, along with other ride-sharing companies:

The key problem with Uber’s background checks is they lack fingerprinting technology and are not conducted by law enforcement,” Dave Sutton, a spokesperson for Who’s Driving You told USA Today. “Uber does not even meet with prospective drivers in person to see if they give off a strange vibe or seem trustworthy.”

States Are Creating Their Own Ride-Share Safety Laws

According to Bloomberg Law, states such as South Carolina, New Jersey, and North Carolina are beginning to implement their own ride-share safety laws, which cyber-security attorney and Grit Daily co-founder, Andrew Rossow has recently weighed in on.

Taking a quick look at Uber and Lyft’s website, the process to be a driver is similar for both companies. All you need is a driver’s license, pass a criminal background check, insurance, and a 4-door vehicle.  An Uber representative does not meet and ask applicants questions.

Cities Need to Implement the “Text-to-911” Safety Feature

The addition of the text-to-911 safety feature to decrease incidents such as the women in San Diego or the teen from Long Island will add safety to the ever-growing side effect of the ride-sharing industry.

Uber is currently only piloting the texting feature in Los Angeles County, Indiana, and Minnesota. Uber says they plan to eventually expand the safety feature to other jurisdictions that support text-to-911 technology.

Bell and Bell Gardens are the two cities within Los Angeles county that don’t support the safety feature. Uber hopes to eventually launch the feature in other markets throughout the U.S.

Kevin Pichinte is a staff writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is a news associate at ABC7 and was formerly a digital news intern at NBC7 and TLM20. At Grit Daily, he covers entertainment and culture news.

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