In many ways, ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft have made life easier. Whether you had a night out that left you unable to drive, are out of town and don't have a car or just need to get from one place to another, finding a driver is as easy as a couple of taps on your phone.
As convenient as the services are, there is always one underlying concern every time you get into the car: you don't know who that person is. Unlike a normal taxi service, which hires drivers, anyone can sign up to work for Uber or Lyft.
Each company has measures in place, like background checks on all applicants for driving, to ensure the safety and security of its passengers, which is reassuring. Unfortunately they still can't make their services 100 percent safe.
We are getting into a stranger's car
An investigation by CNN revealed there have been more than 100 Uber drivers in the U.S. who have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers over the past 4 years. All of them were either arrested, are wanted by police or have been named in civil suits.
CNN also learned at least 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes including rape, false imprisonment and forcible touching. More cases are still pending.
While you may have assumed that these kind of things happened -- with hundreds of thousands of drivers, some are bound to cross lines -- it is the kind of thing you probably don't think about much. Ignorance is bliss, after all, and it's easier just to think about getting in the car and to your destination without incident.
But if you are the kind of person who is really interested in the statistics, there is no publicly available data regarding the number of sexual assaults by ride-share drivers. CNN came to their conclusion from reviewing police reports, federal court records and county court databases for 20 major U.S. cities.
Uber operates in far more than 20 U.S. cities (630 cities worldwide, to be exact) and provides 15 million rides every day. You have to assume there are crimes that have not been reported and there are likely far more than 100 or so incidents where drivers did something inappropriate or committed a crime. That's just math.
Uber understands there is a problem
People are encouraged to use ride-sharing apps after a night out rather than risking a drive, but many assaults happen to intoxicated passengers. To have their good choice turned into something awful is really, really upsetting.
Uber of course does not publicize that their drivers commit crimes. Everyone who signs up to drive acknowledges they will follow the company's set guidelines including no sexual contact when using the app.
However, Uber does not require its drivers to take any kind of sexual assault training. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CNN that cracking down on sexual assault is a new priority for the company.
Part of that new focus can be seen in Uber creating new protocol updates. They will be re-running background checks on an annual basis, and soon create a "safety center" within the app that will allow passengers to designate contacts they want to share their trip details with while they ride.
There will also be an emergency button that will allow riders to call 911 through the app.
Lyft is aware of the issue, too
Like Uber, Lyft performs background checks on its drivers and has a set of standards it expects them to abide by. However, also like Uber, the company has had its own issues with drivers.
According to CNN, over the last 4 years they found 18 cases where Lyft drivers were accused of assaulting their passengers. Four of those drivers were convicted.
Similar to Uber, Lyft says safety is its top priority, and has policies and features in place for that reason.
How can we be safe?
Each company conducts its own background checks, though, and Uber says they take a deeper look into everyone who gets flagged during the process. Furthermore, Uber notes that anyone who has a serious criminal conviction is disqualified from becoming a driver.
However, CNN found a pair of instances where drivers who had pled guilty to sexual assaults were working for both Uber and Lyft.
With that in mind, there are some things you will want to do in order to ensure your ride does not involve anything other than getting to your destination.
One thing that would help is not being intoxicated when getting into the vehicle, but that may not always be an option after a late night. In that case, riding with a friend or two would be a great idea.
If that is not doable, at least having a way to defend yourself should an issue arise is never a bad thing. If nothing else, think of getting in an Uber or Lyft as being the same as walking down a dark street alone late at night. What would you be mindful of? Always verify that the driver who shows up matches the driver on your app. Listen to Kim's podcast on how sexual predators are using Uber and Lyft to target women.
After all of that, if you are still feeling uneasy about the idea of getting into a stranger's car, it is best to avoid Uber and Lyft altogether. You still will not want to get behind the wheel if you have been drinking, so make sure to have a designated driver or a friend or family member who can come pick you up.
Smartphone apps have a way of putting our information at risk
Sites like Facebook and Google track your online activity so they can provide users with targeted ads. It's not just websites either, in fact, many smartphone apps take part in the targeted ad process. We've learned that millions of apps are putting your personal information at risk, and certain apps could be cause for concern.