The big news around rideshare this week is the story of a college student who got into a car she thought was her Uber driver only to be killed by an imposter. The fake Uber driver is in jail now, but the woman is dead. One cnn.com columnist even wondered if we should think of Uber in terms of national security.
I think that might be a bit paranoid, but we do need to think more about safety, both as drivers and passengers. It’s a frequent topic. The week before I started driving for Uber, a driver was attacked by a passenger across the river from me in Covington, Kentucky. My family tried a few times to talk me out of this venture. Most of the time, though, it’s safe. However, I am pretty aggressive about not letting abusive passengers in my car or allowing them to stay in the car. However, under this byline, I write crime fiction. Which means a lot of my writer buds are or were police officers. (I got a scolding from Robin Burcell for wearing my Bouchercon badge while walking up to Starbucks one morning about 13 years ago.) As a result, both from talking with these people and with my own encounters with the police, I’ve learned there’s a certain tone of voice that will diffuse 90% of sticky situations. I don’t imply I have a badge or ever presume to do so, but if I talk like the guy who just strolled up to your car after pulling you over for a taillight or weaving or whatever, chances are you’re going to pay attention. I drive Friday and Saturday nights. Half my riders are drunk. Sometimes, a firm voice and clear direction calms people down.
But let’s talk about you as a passenger. What is it you can do to make sure you’re not getting into some whack job’s car? As a driver, the first thing I do is ask you your name. If I know your name, chances are I’m here to pick you up. But the first thing you should ask me is if I’m who I say I am. “Jim?” That’s all it takes. Still, you can protect yourself even further. Use your app. Uber and Lyft will show you where your driver is and how long it may take to get to you. (It also shows you if I’m with another passenger, so calling to badger me to hurry up is more likely going to result in me cancelling your ride before I’ve even finished the other passenger’s. That’s another blog post.) It also gives you my name, what car I’m driving, and the plate number.
Also, you can text from within the app. I love this feature because it has a few canned messages I can use to tell you what you want to know without having to do a full text. “I have arrived” is the one I use most often. If your driver texts you, it’ll show in the app. Pay attention. That’s the person you booked to take you somewhere. Often, I’ll voice-to-text “In a [model and color of car] with flashers going,” and I’ll add the location if the GPS’s direction is questionable. Again, pay attention.
As drivers, we need to ask if the passenger is who they say they are. Sometimes, another person, often parents of teenagers, will book a ride for someone else. Verify that, and passengers, answer when the driver texts you. Pay attention to the demeanor of the passenger. An aggressive or abusive person should either be told to calm down or refused the ride. I go as far as to cancel on someone who gets belligerent about when they ordered the ride. Normally, I just tell a person where I am, that I’m with a passenger (and you’re on speaker, btw, so how you act toward me is also how you treat the person whose already paid to be in my car. Tread carefully.) And ask if the person getting in is the person who ordered the ride. (I have hilarious stories about a handful of people who didn’t quite answer that question right and got in the wrong car, which happened to be mine. Again, another blog post.)
Finally, remember, if, driver’s, that’s who booked the ride, and passengers, that’s who you booked to drive you, then Uber knows who’s in that car, where we all are, and where we’re supposed to go. Starting something in a rideshare vehicle is monumentally stupid whether you’re a passenger or a driver. It’s like whipping out a gun in front of a police station with the Ten O’Clock News out front and the camera pointed at the car.
We can’t prevent everything. Crazy people manage to sign up to drive. And they book rides. But a little common sense keeps the danger to a minimum. Experience and good communication has made bad drivers more of a concern to me than dangerous passengers. Now that, I can only count on good brakes and quick reflexes.