How Safe Is Uber? It Depends on Gender

Modern luxury executive car on a white background

It’s shorthand for the potential danger faced by women using app-based, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. And if you’re already dismissing how dangerous it can be, you’ve obviously missed the rash of headlines like these from across the country.

• “Uber Driver Charged With Rape Ordered Held After Dangerousness Hearing” (Boston Globe, August 2016)

• “Police Had Tip That Lyft Driver Charged With Sexual Assault Planned To Flee Country” (Dallas Morning News, November 2015)

• “Police: Uber Driver Returns to Rape, Burglarize Passenger at Her Home” (FOX-TV New Orleans, January 2016)

• “Fake Uber Driver Arrested After Brutal Sexual Assault of Passenger in Westlake: LAPD” (KTLA-TV Los Angeles, April 2016)

You read correctly. Per that last headline, we’ve now reached the point where bad guys are actually posing as Uber drivers in order to lure unsuspecting women into their cars.

“With the alarming number of alleged sexual assaults involving ride-hail app drivers, it’s urgent that we bring this issue to the forefront of conversations,” says Delilah Rumburg, CEO of the nonprofit National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

To that point, the organization has allied with another nonprofit, the National Limousine Association (NLA), which — in calling for a “Passenger Bill of Rights” last year as part of its “Ride Responsibly” initiative — has been spearheading a nationwide movement to subject drivers for the Ubers of the world to the same rigorous criminal background checks as those behind the wheels of taxis and limos.

To up the ante, both have enlisted Pamela Anderson — she of former “Baywatch” fame — to make their case in a Public Service Announcement. “You can’t always vet the driver you are using,” she says in “The Driving Game!” video, “but the service you are using should.”

Whether even Ms. Anderson will be enough to steel the backs of politicians up against formal opponents in the ride-hailing industry in general, and that Uber in particular, remains to be seen. The main sticking point? Forcing the industry to finally start spending the extra bucks to fingerprint their drivers instead of relying on what NLA President Gary Buffo dismissively calls, “the perilously in-comprehensive background checks” Uber and its ilk continue to defend.

Just how formidable is the ride-hailing industry?

Consider this: a few months after Uber and Lyft pulled out of the Austin, Texas, market last May, rather than comply with new fingerprinting regulations that voters had just endorsed, the issue came up again in Massachusetts. Boston, you see, had been experiencing a slew of alleged sexual assaults by Uber drivers that left women on edge. Even so, lawmakers were unable to muster the votes needed to include a fingerprinting requirement in the statewide law that ultimately passed.

“It’s really frustrating when you see these attacks happen over and over again,” State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who favored fingerprinting, tells the Boston Globe. “It’s hurtful to the victim and hurtful to the community.”

“When,” she adds, “is it going to stop?”.