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Uber Part One: "A Safe Ride Home"

This is Part One of Two blogs devoted to issues pertaining to ride sharing companies operating in Atlanta.

PART ONE: “A SAFE RIDE HOME”

This is Uber’s brand message. “A safe ride home” is how Uber advertises its ride share program. Uber has partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, in a “designated rider” campaign. Yet, is Uber the safe ride home it claims to be? In a particularly ironic twist given Uber’s association with MADD, a recent report has highlighted the often dangerous results when women who want to avoid driving after drinking call Uber for “safe” rides home.

A STARTLING REPORT

On April 30, 2018, CNN revealed the results of its investigation into numerous allegations of sexual assaults against Uber drivers. The findings were disturbing. By searching public records, talking with local prosecutors, attorneys and victims across the country, the investigation found over 100 assault charges against Uber drivers, with prosecutors and attorneys stating that the actual number is most likely a lot higher. Many cases of assault are never reported due to victims feeling shame or embarrassment, or not wanting to go through the arduous process of a prosecution. Many of the assault cases against Uber and its drivers go to arbitration (Uber’s ride share agreement has an arbitration clause; see below) and are settled with non-disclosure agreements. These agreements prevent any information about the cases from coming to light, including that they even occurred, which further skews the data on the total number of assault charges. To date, the CNN’s investigation only uncovered 31 criminal convictions.

Because convictions have been elusive for the reasons stated above, many women have turned to civil lawsuits to try to obtain justice. Currently, certification for a class action lawsuit of women who have been sexually assaulted by Uber drivers is pending. The lawsuit asks for more than monetary damages; it is requesting more thorough background checks of drivers, including fingerprinting, and re-running of the background checks on an annual basis in order to better flag current problems.

A PREDATORY PATTERN

Many of the survivors of assault recount a strikingly similar set of facts: they were out for a night with friends, had been drinking or were inebriated, and called Uber for “a safe ride home.” What they got was anything but that. Predatory drivers profile their victims, looking for compromised passengers who tend to be small or petite, intoxicated, and alone. Lawyers for the victims say that many times drivers ask enough questions of their passengers to ascertain that they live alone, so that the assault can take place at the victim’s home or nearby.

WILL CHANGES BE FORTHCOMING?

Uber has stated that it is committed to improving its background checks of its drivers, specifically re-running the checks annually and looking for recent criminal violations. It would be helpful if the background checks are expanded beyond looking for criminal convictions to also looking at recent employment history; there have been instances where drivers for one ride share company were fired due to accusations of assault only to be hired by another ride share company that was unaware of the previous firing and its cause.

Uber has pledged to create a “safety center” within its app where riders can designate contacts they want to share trip details with on the ride. An emergency button will be included inside the app that allows users to call 911.

While the above steps are good, women are pushing Uber for more. They want Uber to drop the arbitration clause from its ride share contracts, allowing victims to choose their forum when pursuing redress. Victims maintain that pushing people into arbitration and non-disclosure agreements has benefitted the company by allowing the enormity of the problem to be hidden from the public at large. With many victims and attorneys not allowed to comment on lawsuits, the story behind the most valuable start-up in the country has not been wholly told. Until now.

Next week: How to handle motor vehicle crashes with Uber/Lyft cars

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