Rideshare Risks: Dangers facing Uber and Lyft drivers

Ex-Detroiter starts company to keep drivers safe

DETROIT (WXYZ) - When an Uber or Lyft driver commits a crime, it makes big headlines. But lately, rideshare drivers have become the victims of violent passengers and riders who rob them.

When your job is to pick up a passenger you’ve never met, in a neighborhood you’ve never been to, it can be a risky career choice.

Antonio Jimenez has been driving for Uber for 8 months and he loves the job. He's very proud that he's logged almost 1,000 rides, and he enjoys helping his fellow Detroiters get to work, or get home safely from the bar.

“It’s fun. You meet very interesting people,” said Jimenez.

Antonio says Uber sends out regular safety updates to their drivers with advice, but he says he wouldn’t go anywhere without a camera recording his passengers.

“They’ll think twice about doing something!  As you can see I have a sign to warn them… a lot of customers ask me why I have a camera, I tell them-- for their safety and my safety,” said Jimenez.  

Drivers are on their own to purchase cameras or other security measures. They are not allowed to carry weapons while on the job, even if they have a license.

Unlike a Lyft driver who was shot at in Detroit back in May, Antonio says he feels lucky he’s never had to call the police.

“Almost – one time, the drunk guy didn’t want to get out of the car and I almost pressed the [OnStar emergency] button.  But no I have not, thank God,” said Jimenez.

Antonio says he and other drivers would like the ridesharing companies to gather more background information about the passengers – before they get into their vehicles.

“When a customer requests a ride, they know who we are, they know what vehicle we drive – they see our face.  And we feel, as drivers, we should have that same privilege of them – who are we picking up,” said Jimenez.

Last May, the Lyft driver who was shot at in Detroit told 7 Action News the same thing.

“No background check on them, no copy of an ID or anything. The two rideshare companies have got to do something about that, cause it’s scary for us,” said the driver who asked not to be identified.

“If the drivers don’t feel safe and secure… the amount of drivers on the platform will decrease, meaning that the prices will increase and the wait times will increase,” said Lawrence Mansour.

That’s why the Shelby Township native co-founded TripCam. It’s a video and tablet system that records riders, and stores the footage in case drivers need it for police or court.

TripCam often captures passengers misbehaving, and even though ridesharing is cashless-- lots of people still steal stuff. Mansour says one couple in Miami took the TripCam tablet, which recorded their efforts to break into the device and their conversation about trying to sell it for $500.

“We were able to not only pull up the footage but we were able to pull up the GPS location address and provide that to the authorities,” said Mansour.

As for Antonio, he advises all drivers to go with your gut.

“If you feel you’re not safe, you can cancel the ride – not let the rider in, and report it to Uber. Uber has a policy – they’ll never match you with that rider ever again,” said Jimenez.  

A Lyft spokesperson provided this statement to us:

At Lyft, safety is our number one priority. From the beginning, we have worked hard to design policies and features that protect our community. For driver safety, these measures include a 24/7 Critical Response Line for situations in which drivers or riders feel their safety is threatened, and a dedicated Trust and Safety team that investigates safety related concerns.

The 7 Investigators asked Uber spokeswoman Kayla Whaling these specific questions about driver safety:

  • What is Uber’s safety responsibility to independent contractor drivers?
  • Why won’t Uber provide dashcam/passenger cameras for drivers?
  • Drivers seem to consistently tell us that they want more information about who is getting in their cars.  How much passenger information is provided? Should Uber do more to screen customers?

Whaling would not answer those specific questions, instead she referred us to Uber.com for a list of safety tips and provided this additional statement:

In terms of tips for drivers, we worked with law enforcement and safety experts to compile the list. We also have a team dedicated 24/7 to monitor the feedback of trips and will look into a situation if something is reported through the app.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com or call 248-827-4473.

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