Dozens of women are currently suing rideshare companies like Lyft over alleged sexual harassment and assault by drivers. Here, 7 tips for protecting yourself from ending up in the same, terrible situation.
BE IN CHARGE
Before going out for the night, make sure your phone is fully charged. That’s your phone, not a friend’s—if your phone is dead and someone else calls a ride for you, you could end up alone in the car in a dicey situation with no means of communication, says Laurel Simes, a lawyer at Levin Simes Abrams LLP. “Then, any safety measure you could have taken, you can’t do that.”
CHECK THE PLATES
Don’t assume the first car you see pulling over is your ride. “A big part of [safety in rideshares] is making sure that you're getting in the right car,” says Emily May, co-founder and executive director of Hollaback!, an anti-harassment organization. “Checking the license plate is the best way to do that.” You can also confirm that the make and model of car and driver’s name and photo match what you see on your app. Uber also suggests asking the driver, “Who are you here to pick up?”
DON’T GO IT ALONE
If you’ve had too much to drink, ask friends to ride along. “Go together in the car so that neither of you is by yourself in a car with a stranger,” says Simes. Not every ride ends in a horror story, but there can be safety in numbers, especially when your awareness is affected by alcohol.
Whether you are sober or intoxicated, alone or with friends, try not to fall asleep in the car. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings. And, if you’re uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to end your ride early. “If the person seems to have something off, ask to get out,” says Simes. “Just say, ‘I’ve changed my mind, I would like to get out.’ They should [let you].”
Uber recommends sitting in the back seat to maintain your personal space and so that you can exit the car from either side. And don’t be afraid to speak up and push back—though being direct can be hard when you’re in a stranger’s car. “Reclaim your space by verbally setting a boundary, saying, ‘Look, I don't feel comfortable, stop doing that,’” says May. “Consider also trying to change the subject,” she suggests. “[Ask] ‘Do you have kids?’ or just say ‘I really can't talk right now, I need to do some work’ and dig into your phone.” If the driver pushes back, repeat what you just said. “I've had to repeat the same thing three times in a row before,” explains May. “But usually, after the third time you've set the exact same boundary, they will give up.”
GET TO KNOW THE APP
Take a minute to familiarize yourself with the safety features of different rideshare apps. If you want to make sure a friend or loved one knows exactly where you are during your ride, both Lyft and Uber let you share your ride; your friend will be able to follow along in realtime. If you need immediate help, Uber has an “emergency button” that calls 911 directly from the app (Lyft has the option to call 911 through the app’s safety center). And to help you share information with emergency dispatchers more efficiently, the Uber app will provide you with your current location and vehicle info. In a growing number of U.S. cities, according to the Uber website, this info is automatically provided to the authorities. Thanks to its RideCheck feature using GPS data and sensors, the Uber app detects anything out of the ordinary (like an unusual diversion off-course), prompting operators to reach out to you. Lyft has an in-the-works feature that will notice if a ride has stopped too soon or for an unusually long time and check to see if you need emergency assistance.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
Remember: If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not just in your head. “We think, ‘Oh, maybe I'm just making a big deal out of it,’ or ‘Maybe I'm just being too sensitive,’” says May, who advises people to stay safe by tuning into their gut feelings. “Your instincts are your body's way of taking care of you,” she explains. “The world has a way of telling women that we're all ‘hypersensitive,’ and we just need to ‘relax.’ But if you don't feel safe, notice that.”
Click here to read stories from more than 20 women who are suing Lyft for sexual harassment or assault at the hands of drivers.