Amid mounting criticism and lawsuits concerning Uber shortcomings when it comes to passenger safety, the company unveiled several new safety features planned to roll out along with an app-wide update it announced Thursday.
They’ll be among several added to the ride-sharing app in the last year since Uber announced it was “getting serious about safety,” a commitment long overdue given its rampant problem with drivers committing sexual assault and other violent acts against passengers. In March, a man was charged in the murder of a South Carolina college student who police say may have mistakenly thought her killer’s car was her Uber ride.
One of these earlier safety additions, basically an in-app panic button, connects riders with a 911 operator and instantly shares their location information. On Thursday Uber announced it will be tacking on an option to its emergency button for users to discretely text 911 instead, though only in areas where emergency services already support this technology. The text automatically includes identifying information like the vehicle’s license plate number and model to help authorities respond quickly.
The driver verification process is getting updated as well. Uber plans to let passengers opt-in to receive a four-digit PIN to tell their driver, who must then enter the correct code into the app, before the ride can begin. The company is currently developing a way to streamline this process using “ultrasound waves,” which would enable the app to complete this whole exchange silently for you. And while drivers already provide Uber with selfies to confirm their identity, soon they’ll also have to perform basic prompts like blinking or turning their head to satisfy the app’s newly enhanced facial-recognition technology.
A “Report Safety Incident” option will also roll out as part of Uber’s improved safety tool kit, allowing riders to report any concerns during their trip. Currently, users have to wait until their ride’s complete before they can file a complaint about any crazy driving or other troubling behavior they experience. While Uber hasn’t specified a timeline for when it aims to roll out many of these new features, the company’s head of safety products, Sachin Kansal, told the Washington Post it plans to make on-trip reporting available in half the country beginning next month.
As for the app-wide update itself, Uber’s latest version will consolidate its ride-sharing and food-delivery services with aims to be what the company called “the operating system for your everyday life” in its blog post.
This news comes at a time when Uber desperately needs a win on its passenger safety front. Among other scandals, last month one of Uber’s previous safety initiatives, a $1 Safe Rides Fee the company claimed supported improved vetting and future security features, turned out to be every bit as sketchy as it sounds. So not only does Uber have a history of failing to adequately address complaints about the service’s safety problems, the company’s purportedly profited off its own lack of security by pocketing this “safety” fee. Not a good look.