Respect Accessibility

Uber now allows riders to text 911 directly for emergencies

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Story at a glance

  • Safety issues have long plagued ride-sharing apps such as Lyft and Uber, who rely on a large volume of drivers and riders in order to run a successful company.
  • Uber is attempting to be more transparent about their progress in creating a safer riding experience, releasing a comprehensive study at the end of last year.
  • The largest ride-sharing app, Uber has just added a discreet new 911-alerting feature that doesn’t require a physical phone call to be placed.

“What should have been a 15-minute drive, turned into an 80-minute living nightmare.”

This was what Alison Turkos, a woman who says she was raped by her Lyft driver in 2017, said in a recent statement released by her lawyer. Her harrowing experience captured in a detailed podcast interview by the Cut — Alison had called a Lyft after a seemingly innocuous night out with friends, looking for a quick ride home. Instead, she was driven across state lines, to a park, and the next morning she woke up with no memory of what had happened there. 

Turkos worked with the Special Victims Unit to bring back memories of her traumatic evening — remembering that her driver kidnapped her at gunpoint while she was on her way home, and then raped her with two other men. Within 24 hours she claims she reported her kidnapping to Lyft, which replied with a canned response. Lyft claims Turkos reported the incident as an indirect route.

Taking necessary precautions

Turkos isn’t alone in her experience of sexual assault at the hands of a driver from a ride-sharing app. Uber released an eye-opening study at the end of 2019 that shows a whopping 3,045 sexual assaults were reported in U.S. rides in the previous year, with nine people murdered and 58 killed in crashes.

Luckily, the ride-sharing app is now taking more serious action to prevent these dangerous situations from occurring for their riders and drivers. Starting yesterday Uber launched a feature in its app nationwide which will now allow riders and drivers to text 911 seamlessly and give additional information about the ride, including its current location, even if the driver has strayed from the route.

Whether you call or text, the emergency button lets riders quickly share information with 911 dispatchers. When you text 911, the app prepopulates an SMS with trip details, including car make and model, license plate number, and location, so authorities can quickly respond and dispatch help.

The technology is already saving lives in Los Angeles, one of the first cities where the feature was piloted, along with the states of Indiana and Minnesota.

“We’ve had a number of instances where it saved lives where someone was in a compromised position and it was too dangerous to talk,” Todd Austin, dispatch manager at the Los Angeles Police Department, told ABC News. “They were able to text us that information, we were able to dispatch help and lives were saved.”

Lyft, the ride-sharing app described in the situation above, does not have a Text-to-911 feature. It does allow drivers and riders to connect with 911 from within the app via a phone call — a safety feature it added last September, more than a year after Uber introduced its own initial RideCheck feature.