Residents of Oklahoma meet as drivers and passengers on trips scheduled through popular rideshare services like Uber and Lyft every day. Unless the driver and passenger happen to know each other from earlier rides or associations, each sits in the car with a stranger. Most of the time, these trips conclude with the driver safely delivering the passenger to the destination.
However, numerous reports of drivers and others posing as drivers committing sexual and physical assaults against passengers have surfaced. These incidents focused public attention on the risks rideshare passengers may face from dangerous drivers and third parties. But reports show that Uber and Lyft drivers face a similar risk of sexual assault and harm from some passengers. These rideshare drivers have rights as victims of sexual assault and abuse, too.
Uber and Lyft drivers face risk of sexual assault
In 2018, after CNN investigated 103 cases of sexual assault and abuse by Uber drivers, Uber joined with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to count and categorize the numbers of sexual assaults and fatalities reported by passengers and drivers during rideshares. The Uber U.S. Safety Report published on December 5, 2019 collected data covering 2017-2018. The company reported 5,981 allegations of physical sexual assault but did not include reports on actions such as exposure, solicitation, or verbal assault. The reported forms of physical assault included:
- “nonconsensual kissing of a nonsexual body part”
- “attempted nonconsensual sexual penetration”
- “nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part”
- “nonconsensual kissing of a sexual body part”
- “nonconsensual sexual penetration”
The Uber U.S. Safety report also found that assault complaints were not limited to passengers. Drivers also made complaints about sexual assault: Passengers were accused of sexual assault in 45 percent of the reports, while drivers were accused in 54 percent of reports. The company stressed that these numbers were extremely small given the millions of trips per day but acknowledged that each represented a “critical” safety incident.
Lyft’s “Community Safety Report: Lyft’s commitment to safety for riders, drivers and communities” released in November 2021, similarly covered reports of sexual assault and fatal physical assaults from 2017 to 2019. Lyft reported 360 cases of rape out of 4,158 cases of sexual assault, and the Lyft report broke data down into the same five reporting categories used by Uber. The Appendix to the Lyft report also indicates that drivers made numerous complaints about sexual assault from passengers. Drivers reported 38 percent of assaults while riders reported 52 percent of assaults.
A recent article in The Verge, an online source that examines the use of technology, reported on interviews with over two dozen women drivers for Uber and Lyft who had notified the companies about sexual assaults. One driver reported a passenger to Uber after the customer exposed himself to her. The driver was assured that the Uber app would not match the passenger to her again. A few weeks later, the same woman driver shared the story with two other female drivers, and was told they had both encountered the same man. Although the first driver had reported the man, Uber had not been blocked him from the service, and he was able to repeat the conduct. Other interviewed women reported experiencing unwanted advances, touching, and being solicited for sex.
Uber and Lyft have taken steps to increase passenger safety including:
- Requiring new drivers to undergo detailed background checks before being authorized to drive
- Requiring new drivers to complete sexual assault and misconduct training
- Providing access to drivers and customers to an in-app panic button connecting to 911
- Agreeing to share company data on dangerous drivers
The women drivers pointed out that Uber and Lyft had not required passengers to meet the same safety standards and were not doing enough to ensure driver safety. Uber safety policies for drivers provide for after incident “support” but currently primarily revolve around tech tracing such as the in-app panic button, company GPS tracking, ride-following apps for family and friends, and drivers’ client ratings that influence the company’s match of riders and drivers. Rideshare companies set the criteria for matches and determine whether riders should be barred from their service. While Uber and Lyft have required riders using untraceable payment methods (such as gift cards) to upload government issued IDs that are traceable, passengers may still create false accounts and are not held to driver safety standards.
Just as in cases of sexual assault against drivers, drivers physically assaulted and carjacked by passengers have called for rideshare companies to apply the same safety standards they must meet to passengers. Uber also has refused to provide drivers with safety equipment such as cameras, leading some drivers to reportedly say “that Uber’s hands-off approach has left them vulnerable to attack by passengers.”
What are my rights if I am assaulted while driving for Uber or Lyft?
If you are the victim of a sexual assault or other violent assault in a rideshare, you may want to pursue a lawsuit for damages. Civil claims are different from criminal cases, which are pursued by the state. The point of a civil claim is to seek compensation for your injuries from the perpetrator(s) of the assault, and any other party such as a rideshare company that might also share liability for the assault (under certain conditions). Damages to which you might be entitled could include medical care, pain and suffering, lost wages, and therapy. Civil claims proceed separately from criminal cases and use a different and lesser standard of proof.
At Biby Law Firm, we can help you move forward with a claim for damages if you were hurt while driving for Uber or Lyft. Our Tulsa injury attorneys have experienced handling complex car accident claims, including those involving gig workers and contractors. We can build a case on your behalf that shows the full extent of your injuries and losses, and guide you through the process.
At Biby Law Firm, we put our clients first. To schedule a free consultation with a Tulsa injury attorney, please call 918-574-8458, or fill out our contact form. The initial consultation is always free.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.