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VOL 42, NO 2, SPRING 2020

Uber Safety 

By Sensei Joanne Factor

Let’s get right to the point: the vast majority of ride-share events are safe. You are most likely to arrive, unscathed, at your destination.

I first heard of Uber about a decade or so ago. A local group organized a weekend event that included a Saturday night karaoke party. The organizer let us know that just in case we drank a bit too much, there was this new option to get home safely. This car service called Uber. Sure it made sense in that it’s better to not drive yourself home when intoxicated. Even at that time, though, it seemed like it had the potential to emerge as a slow-motion train wreck. I think these are the basic safety fundamentals: a potential perpetrator needs a target and an opportunity. An important way to create an opportunity is physical isolation. Being alone in a car with a driver fits the bill.

That being said, most people are trustworthy. At least trustworthy enough not to commit felonies.

Riders can keep safer by first making sure they get into the right car. The color, make and model should match what the app says. The driver should be able to tell you who they are picking up. You don’t have to give out personal information when engaging in small talk. Pay attention to the driver’s behavior, as someone intending harm will almost always test your boundaries first. Use the driver ratings feature to flag inappropriate comments or behavior. Watch the little map on the app to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. Probably most importantly, if something feels wrong, you don’t have to get into that car. Once you’re in the car and you have concerns, worry less about appearing rude and more about telling the driver to stop and let you out. If needed, consider what you have on you that can be used asa weapon (including articles of clothing). Remember that your voice is your most critical safety tool.

Drivers can keep safer by making plans. Pay attention to your instincts, and do not be afraid to cancel for safety concerns. Have some ideas for what you can do with passengers who make inappropriate comments. Pay attention to the passenger’s behavior, as someone intending harm will almost always test your boundaries first. Give ratings to your passengers, so that other drivers could also stay safer (remember, you are a community). And if the terms of service include no unaccompanied minors, just remember it’s your liability.

Over time, what stood out most to me was the Uber corporate mentality. It was very clear that the business didn’t consider safety a priority, and did not cultivate it as an internal standard. When enough bad press emerged about the corporate culture, the founder/CEO Travis Kalanick was forced out and more safety features planned for the app, such as a PIN to help ensure the passenger got into the right car. However, it should never be a surprise to anyone that a large company prioritizes business over safety. That is part of your safety planning.

Asking if the ride-share industry is “safe” is not really the most illuminating question. More helpful is to think of a list of options and figure what is the “safer” choice. That will vary, depending on the situation. Is Uber “safer?” If my other choice is driving myself home while intoxicated, then probably yes. Is sticking your drunk friend in a car and waving good-bye safe? Not as much, even if it is convenient.

When I was much younger, a child living in Brooklyn, our parents would drive us or our friends home. And if we dropped someone off at their house, we waited until they were in their front door. That’s just what we did, because we cared about our friends. And I think the crux of the issue is to care more for our friends than for convenience. It has to become a community standard. I often think we use technology as talisman to ward off bad events, like “magical thinking,” because we value the convenience and want to believe we’re making a safe choice. 

As self-defense teachers, we should already be talking about awareness, using one’s voice, and “found” weapons. We can expand on that by discussions about the parameters and limitations about the ride-share industry. Navigating any social landscape can be safer if we understand potential risks, have thought about our options, and have plans in place.

For more tips on Uber safety, read this blogpost by Sylvia Smart: https://nagacommunity.com/uber-and-lyft-safety/

For more information about Joanne's self defense school, Strategic Living: https://www.strategicliving.org/

Sensei Joanne Factor is a self-defense instructor and owner of Strategic Living LLC, where she has been helping women discover their inner super-sheroes since 1994. She teaches the empowerment model of self-defense, helping students become more aware of and confident in their own power. She has brought her talents to PAWMA both as a board member (and past president) and a repeat instructor. She is also an instructor at the Feminist Karate Union in Seattle, where she has trained for over 27 years.

Photo courtesy of Joanne Factor

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