Most of us were raised with the warning to not get into strangers’ cars, but the ridesharing economy has required us to do just that to get around. Even though there’s a cultural shift where getting into a stranger’s car makes sense, there are always a few bad apples in any group – and the background check process for drivers isn’t incredibly strict. You can’t forego all pretense of safety and security when taking an Uber or Lyft ride; riders must also take responsibility of your situation and surroundings, trust your instincts, and know when and how to get out away from those creepy Uber drivers.
Verify the Nitty-Gritty of Your Ride
While on a trip in Miami, Karen (name protected for anonymity) waited patiently for her Uber. When a car pulled up and the driver told Karen her Uber had arrived, she checked the app to see if this was truly her ride. It wasn’t.
Neither the car or its plates matched the information shown in the app, so Karen asked for the driver’s name. He responded with a question of his own: “What’s the name of your driver?” – a red flag if ever there was one.
This driver was certainly not Karen’s Uber driver, if he was a rideshare driver at all. He could have simply been a creep trying to prey on a woman obviously waiting for her Uber to arrive, but Karen’s quick thinking and instinct to verify his identity foiled his “master plan.”
The tactic seems to be prevalent amongst creeps masquerading as rideshare drivers if the experience of Harley Quinn Smith, Kevin Smith’s 16-year old daughter, is any indication. In 2016, Harley waited for her Uber outside of a Starbucks in Los Angeles. A car displaying the Uber logo soon arrived, but, much like Karen, Smith sensed something was amiss.
During the brief exchange, the car’s occupants refused to identify themselves to Smith and appeared to not even have the Uber app installed on their phones. After Smith refused to get into the car despite the prodding of these would-be kidnappers, the car drove off.
“They were most definitely not Uber drivers,” Smith later posted to her Instagram.
Both Karen and Smith protected themselves by comparing the “Uber” that arrived to the information shown on the app. Before getting into a rideshare, verify that the make, model, license plate, and driver’s name and picture match what you’re expecting.
Know and Share Your Route
Many rideshare drivers maintain other jobs when they’re not busy ferrying folks around. Erika Weller’s driver, who she deemed “Creepy McMurderpants,” seemingly spent his free time fantasizing about Uber-related kidnappings and killings.
As “McMurderpants” drove Weller to work in a car that had a peculiar “metallic odor,” he waxed poetic about a number of recent acts of rideshare-related violence – particularly, Weller notes, those involving females. Such a subject isn’t the best choice for making small talk, especially coming from the mouth of a stranger behind the wheel of a car you’re stuck inside and who may or may not have some idea of where you live or work.
When the driver pulled into the parking lot of Weller’s office, he locked the car doors and casually implied that he, too, was more than capable of committing murder – and may have done so already. Weller panicked and protested and after making a strong demand to be set free, was finally able to escape the vehicle after the brushed his antics off as a “joke.”
Joke or not, Weller handled herself well, her repeated demands to be let free eventually culminating in just that. In a similar situation where the driver refuses to unlock the door, call 911 as quickly as possible and attempt to call for help while lowering or breaking the window for access to the outside door handle (opening the door from the outside will overcome the child safety locks).
It’s also a prudent idea to notify friends, family, or co-workers where you are and where you’re headed before getting into an Uber. Tapping “Share Status” in the Uber app will share a ride’s details to a contact of your choice, and Uber also tracks GPS location of both you and the driver so that your location is always known, even in a worst-case scenario.
Fake a Number
Uber anonymizes your phone number so that drivers aren’t privy to your real, personal number, but that doesn’t stop them from asking you – even going so far as to demand it while making you uncomfortable.
Thota Anusha was glad to be so near to her destination after being subject to her driver’s increasingly creepy sexual innuendos and advances throughout, but upon arrival to her destination, the driver asked for her phone number. Sensing he’d be a threat if she turned him down, Anusha gave him a fake phone number.
The driver instead demanded that Anusha call him from her phone then and there. She faked a missed call to him, grabbed her stuff, and took off, later filing a report with Uber and eventually receiving a refund.
Don’t Put All Your Trust in Ratings
The higher a driver’s rating, the more fares they’ll pick up and earn, at least in theory. A driver with too low a rating will have fewer customers and less income (or even be kicked off a ridesharing service), so it’s important to a driver to have a high rating. Riders also choose drivers based on rating – the higher the rating, the more likely it is you’ll have a safe, comfortable trip (again, though, in theory).
“Marat” was so desperate to maintain his near-perfect rating that he may have falsely imprisoned one of his passengers, refusing to let her exit his car unless she gave him a five-star rating, then and there.
Though the passenger rightfully did not want Marat accessing her phone, she ultimately made the safest choice in allowing Marat to do something arbitrary and ineffective – rate himself. After Marat gave himself five stars, he allowed his passenger to leave his car.
Though the passenger chose not to call the police after this incident, Uber recommends doing so in such cases where you feel unsafe. The passenger did file a report with Uber and also cautions riders to carry personal defense products on them, such as pepper spray, to help provide a window of opportunity to escape in a similar situation.
This passenger’s experience, while disconcerting, is a great example of the arbitrary nature of ratings, which don’t fully indicate the trustworthiness of a driver. How many other riders had Marat forced to give him a five-star rating? Use a driver’s rating as a benchmark and a general idea of what you can expect, but not a guarantee.
Safety with Strangers Demands Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is your best defense when riding in an Uber. Remain cognizant and vigilant of your surroundings and the goings-on around you. Put Uber’s rider safety tips into practice by informing friends and relatives where you’re leaving and heading, protect your personal information, and, most importantly, trust your gut. You know the difference between those creepy Uber drivers and just an honest mistake.