How to Stay Safe Using Rideshare Services is a topic in most of our seminars, particularly our Women Self Defence Courses. For more than 100 years, taxis have been a valuable mode of transportation. However, more recent years, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have arrived. Unfortunately, with many valuable services comes a darker side. In this blog, I want to look at some startling statistics and safety tips to avoid falling victim to violence.
In my 28 years of teaching violence prevention and self-defence, the one topic I have received more about is taxis. Using a cab goes against many of the safety standards we teach people. And while there are risks involved with a taxi, there are even more if you use a rideshare service. A post can also be done on the attacks on rideshare drivers. Still, this blog will focus on the users of these services concerning sexual violence.
Before we get to the safety tips, consider these statistics.
According to an article on wired.com, more than 3,000 people reported sexual assaults related to Uber rides in the US last year. This equates to an average of eight per day.
Uber is working with advocacy groups to create classifications of sexual assault. Concerning the overall topic of rape, we know most rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. In the case of Rideshare drivers, this would fit into the category of “stranger rape.”
The article states that regarding “stranger rape,” Just 27,000 incidents occurred last year; according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, fewer than 20 percent of the total rape incidents were reported to the FBI.
The one word that jumps out is “JUST!”. Have we come to a point where 27,000 is a small, even acceptable number? If so, wow! Yes, the number of rapes reported may be small, but that is why we should even be more shocked!
What gets lost most often in statistics are the people experiencing this trauma they will carry for a lifetime. So many use this service as a safe way to get home, only to find it is the opposite.
So, why do I consider ridesharing services and taxis risky compared to most forms of transportation?
- You are in a vehicle with a stranger.
- You are trapped in a car that may be moving at high speed.
- You have no control over the car.
- Being alone makes you a more vulnerable target.
- Many use the service after a night of drinking, so one may pass out or be deficient in making decisions.
You hear a few things in that video that should be brought up.
Many who work in the industry quickly bring up how many lives are saved because the service provides transportation to those who have been consuming alcohol so they can get home safely. Yes, true, but also an increased opportunity for the rapist to seek victims. Rapists and criminals, in general, seek those they consider vulnerable. Being alone, isolated in a vehicle and under the influence of any substances magnifies this vulnerability. It creates the perfect environment for any assault.
We teach how often an attacker wants to isolate their victims so they can proceed with their sexual assault or rape with less chance of being caught. Being alone in a taxi or car, as in Rideshare services, maybe the ultimate in isolation. First, they have control over the vehicles, doors, and windows. Additionally, where the car may end up, depending on whether it is a taxi or a Rideshare car, may determine if there is a barrier between you and the driver. Again, these are often put in for the driver’s safety and provide more opportunities to control the scenario if they have evil plans.
People who get into these vehicles may find themselves engaged in small talk, which may be sincere, but also used to distract the person until it may be too late to act.
Also, the seemingly insignificant conversation may be used for fact-gathering on the driver’s part. Many find themselves answering personal questions, not realizing they may have told the driver things such as if they live alone, how long they will be away from home on vacation, and who may or may not be expecting them. Some people will suddenly stop realizing how much personal information they give.
The small talk might buy the driver enough time to place you where you can’t attract attention to the car or even use your cell phone effectively to get help if it is not on or you have passed out. Most times, you can trust the driver to wake you up when you arrive at your destination, but I think we people put far too much trust into these “strangers.”
Here are some violence prevention and self-defence tips to increase safety when using a taxi or rideshare service. While you may not be able to adopt them all, the more you can, the safer you will be.
One of the first safety tips always brought up is dialling 911, and rideshare services are integrating them into their apps. That is all fine and dandy, but as I often say, having the ability to use 911 does not necessarily prevent the attack, which should be the primary focus.
Dialling 911 or pressing a single button can become a complex motor skill, not easily performed. My worry, as it has been for many years, is that people think they can call 911, and the police will be there in seconds, or the rapist will immediately flee. So, yes, having the ability to dial 911 is one measure, but not one that prevents the attack or necessarily stops it. It may be more valuable after the fact.
Remember, the criminal knows you can use 911, so they plan around your ability to use it or access it.
One of the simplest and most effective safety tips I can offer is never to use a taxi or rideshare service alone. You are less attractive to the driver when you have two or more people. There are more obstacles and challenges for the driver to overcome potentially, so there is a high chance they will wait for a better victim to select.
If one person is more mentally aware, they should wait to exit the vehicle. Ideally, both get out of the car at your destination. Never leave a friend alone if they are limited physically or mentally in any way.
This may not be a tip you think of with safety in a taxi or rideshare vehicle but trust your intuition. If you get in and the person says, acts or behaves in any way that triggers a feeling of discomfort, politely say you want out.
Now, suppose they do have bad intentions. The sooner you can address any trouble, the better. Also, because the aggressor often does not want to get caught, if you say you want out, it may trigger their intuition that you are not the best choice victim.
My preference is you sit in the backseat while using your cellphone, which I will mention soon. However, sitting in the backseat does remove the immediate accessibility to you. Several women have told me that the driver has reached over and touched them when sitting in the front seat. It may merely stop there, which is terrible enough as sexual assault but may be used to test your limits in their decision to further the attack.
Before getting in, match the driver’s license plate, make and model of the car, and driver’s photo. Unfortunately, too many people have just jumped into the car, assuming it was the correct one. This has resulted in some tragic results. Or the supposed driver waves you over, and you get in without checking the credentials.
Another intelligent strategy before getting in the car is to ask the driver who they are supposed to pick up. While it does not guarantee they will not do anything, it is one more step in verifying they are the driver. The driver may also ask you for their name for their safety. Again, many drivers have been attacked, but that is not the focus of this blog post.
The use of cell phones can be very valuable here. While they can be a negative device in distracting yourself, in a taxi or rideshare vehicle, they are helpful. On your cellphone, tell the person at the end of the line the driver’s name, where you are, what time you should arrive and even stay on the phone with them. Ensure the driver can hear you providing all this information to the other person.
This, again, makes you a less attractive target. And if the driver takes issue, that should trigger your intuition that something is wrong. Also, chatting with your friend out of strategy while being aware also prevents the driver from making small talk in which you might give out personal information. Do not feel pressure to engage in conversation.
If you sense something is wrong, hesitate to be rude or aggressive towards the driver. This might escalate their plan in speed and violence. Easy to say, remain calm, but do your best.
Chris Roberts, Founder SAFE Violence Prevention & Self Defence