Predatory Drivers Cause Road Bumps in Uber Passengers’ Safety

Cartoon by Emma Hines

Over the weekend, a post made rounds on social media detailing three SUNY New Paltz students’ experience when an Uber ride from downtown to campus resulted in their narrow escape from an attempted kidnapping. 

In the post, the student recounted how the driver of the vehicle — which they had confirmed to be the car assigned to their trip via the Uber app — began to veer off the course outlined by his GPS, telling the passengers that he wasn’t familiar with the area. When they noticed they were entering a part of town that they were unfamiliar with, the students asked the driver to pull over “multiple times,” requests that went ignored. It wasn’t until one student dialed the police that the driver let them out “in the middle of nowhere.” 

Though it’s a frightening reality, instances like this have been reported across the country. Over the summer, an Uber driver attempted to kidnap a 15-year-old girl on Long Island, offering to take the teenager out for drinks and driving her toward his Brooklyn residence. Earlier this year, a driver attempted to lock two Pittsburgh women in his vehicle, telling them “you’re not going anywhere,” according to a New York Times report. 

Uber and similar rideshare platforms have made getting around easier than ever. Rather than having to rely on bus schedules or deal with hailing cabs in busy cities, these services allow users to get from point A to point B, pay their fare and tip their driver all in one convenient application.

At the time of its creation, Uber was founded on the promise of a faster, safer, more convenient alternative to taxi services and public transportation. And while it’s not unusual to strike gold and find yourself in a clean car with snacks and water provided, using the service also presents threats that can put passengers in potential danger — odds that are heightened for women. 

Many spaces still exist where it is hard for women to feel completely safe, and Ubers are no exclusion. With the rate of stories like the ones mentioned prior constantly on the rise, it’s easy to understand why women may not feel comfortable using these rideshare services. 

The simple fix to this would be for male drivers to simply stop harassing female passengers, but removing the rose-colored glasses shows that this is not our reality. At the very least, however, Uber could update their hiring process, making it more personal and allowing red flag employees to be caught before they do any damage. 

Currently, to be a driver for Uber, all you need to provide is a driver’s license, social security number and your consent to have a background check completed by the company. In addition, the company claims that a new background check is run yearly, and even more frequently in large cities. 

While these measures will surely prevent individuals with criminal records or an extensive history of vehicular accidents from driving for Uber and potentially putting passengers in danger, it’s still possible for people with ill-intentions — like in the aforementioned situations — to get behind the wheel due to a lack of face-to-face connections ever taking place between the employer and employee. 

With all of this in mind, we at The New Paltz Oracle remind our readers that it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings when using rideshare services. While it’s sad that this is the case, you never truly know the intentions of the person whom you are accepting a ride from, and it is better to be alert in case these intentions turn cruel. 

Prior to the start of a ride, it’s always good to familiarize yourself with your assigned driver; note their name, rating and license plate number. If something seems off, you can always cancel and request a new driver. 

Nine times out of 10, however, all will be well before your car arrives. When it does, be sure to check the license plate on the vehicle to confirm that it matches the one you were provided. Before getting into the vehicle, request that the driver confirms both your name, and theirs; on your end, confirm that the driver who has arrived is the same person in the photo on the app. These extra steps may seem meticulous, but could be instrumental. 

Once in the car, paying attention to your surroundings is crucial. Often times, horror stories from inside a rideshare vehicle share a common scene; the moment the passenger(s) realize that something is off when their driver takes a turn that differs from the route outlined by the GPS in the application. Sometimes, this could just be a case of the driver taking a back road to avoid traffic, for example. But when it begins to become a pattern, taking the riders further away from their destination, red flags should go off immediately; red flags that you do not want to miss. 

Unfortunately, these red flags are not picked up by the application. While Uber recently installed a “Panic” button that alerts local authorities when a passenger feels unsafe, the responsibility to notice the change in route and take action is placed on the passenger, who may or may not be paying attention. 

Clearly in these dangerous situations, this will not be very helpful, especially to female passengers. Our culture has taught women that being soft-spoken and passive is a good thing, and many women have been conditioned to not speak up, even when their gut tells them something is wrong. 

We at The Oracle encourage women to trust their instincts, and seek out assistance if they feel unsafe. We also believe that Uber and all other rideshare platforms should invest in a feature that will alert the company when the ride is going off course, notifying the passenger via the application and asking if they feel that they are in danger. 

Uber, Lyft and all similar services like them have become staples in getting around, and while these services can be great, they also pose a clear and present danger to their passengers, as suggested by the sheer number of instances of threatening situations that passengers have found themselves in. We urge these companies to take more measures to protect their passengers, and create a safer environment for all involved.