Uber announces new safety features, but are the changes too little, too late?

Uber doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to keeping its riders safe. Its latest update could change that.

In a blog post, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi outlined a number of new features aimed at passenger safety, including the ability to dial 911 in-app and giving riders the opportunity to designate trusted contacts who will be able to access trip details.

Additionally, Khosrowshahi pledged a stronger driver screening process and announced an expansion of the company’s Safety Advisory Board, which will now include former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. The feature changes will be rolled out sometime this summer.


“Every day, our technology puts millions of people together in cars in cities around the world,” he wrote. “Helping keep people safe is a huge responsibility, and one we do not take lightly. That’s why as CEO, I’m committed to putting safety at the core of everything we do.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi speaks onstage at The New York Times 2017 DealBook Conference. Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times.

This may be little more than damage control and an effort to fight off existing and future lawsuits.

In 2016, an Uber driver in Chicago was charged with sexually assaulting an intoxicated passenger. The following year, another Chicago woman sued the ride-sharing service over sexual assault by a different driver. A Los Angeles Uber driver was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and kidnapping in 2017, and a Virginia driver was arrested in January 2018, again, for alleged sexual assault.

An Uber car in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities reviewed the records of 70,789 Uber and Lyft drivers, and found that 8,206 (or roughly 11%) failed a background check — some with serious and violent convictions on their records (51 of the rejected drivers were convicted sex offenders).

If not for the screening, the drivers could still be on the road today, as they had passed whatever background check system the ride-sharing companies used.

Late last year, two women brought a class-action lawsuit against Uber, arguing negligence and systemic corruption. The lawsuit reads, in part:

“Uber has done everything possible to continue using low-cost, woefully inadequate background checks on drivers and has failed to monitor drivers for any violent or inappropriate conduct after they are hired. Nothing meaningful has been done to make rides safer for passengers — especially women. This is no longer an issue of ‘rogue’ drivers who act unlawfully.”

Among other actions, the lawsuit called on the company to address its driver background screening system.

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