Rideshare safety strategies came up multiple times in the last few Self-Defense for Women workshops I taught. Concerns ranged from handling occasional creepy behavior from male drivers to how to respond in a threatening situation. There have been multiple incidents of women being assaulted or murdered by men impersonating rideshare drivers in the news lately, as well as incidents of riders being assaulted by legitimate drivers.
As with any news stories around violence it’s important to be cautious, but also to keep perspective. By scale alone, I imagine that most Uber and Lyft drivers are good people just trying to scratch out a living. Our approach to self-defense at Fighting Chance Seattle is to stay grounded in a realistic understanding of potential threats balanced with basic awareness and avoidance practices to not be overwhelmed by fear and dread as we navigate our lives.
The following safety practices are offered to provide a framework for avoiding harm when using rideshare services. As with all self-defense instruction, there are no guarantees and it is best to trust your own judgment and intuition in any emergency. This can be an edgy, uncomfortable topic, and feeling fear and concern is a reality for many women who rely on these services to get home safely. Please share and discuss these practices with your friends and family to raise awareness:
1. Confirm Details and Project Awareness
When your car arrives, check that the license plate, make and model, driver name and photo all match the app. Rather than tell the driver your name, ask “Who are you here to pick-up?” Do not enter the vehicle until you are satisfied that all details are confirmed. This is an important safety step to make sure your ride is tracked in the app. This also signals to your driver that you are aware and that you are prioritizing your own safety, which can deter potential threats.
2. Look Out for Red Flags
Red flags are behaviors or incidents that spike our intuition — our self-defense warning system. Intuition works by matching cues in your external world to your internal pattern of what to expect from a safe interaction. If you get a bad feeling in your body, feel into it and pay attention. Our intuition operates below the conscious mind, so it may come as a feeling that you need to do something rather than a conscious rational thought.
Feed your intuition by knowing your route if possible, or mapping it yourself on your phone. If it looks like the driver is deviating from the route, ask them about it.
Do not agree to pay in cash, even for a lower fare. Drivers are required to use the app, a driver who is unwilling to follow protocol should raise alarm.
Don’t get into the vehicle if you have a bad feeling. You have a right to change your mind.
3. Maintain Space and Boundaries
Sit in the back seat. This creates an automatic barrier between you and the driver. Sitting in the front seat may seem less awkward to some, but it makes it easier for the driver to touch you. The more space you have, the more time you have to react. Sitting in the backseat also gives you access to two doors and more options to get out of the car, especially if one side opens to busy traffic.
Remember that even though you are in the driver’s car he is at work and tasked with providing a professional service. Stay aware of any indication that your driver is not respecting the boundaries of his role (commenting on your appearance, attempting to flirt, asking invasive questions, making inappropriate comments). The incident may be limited to uncomfortable comments or it may escalate, it’s important to set a boundary early in this situation.
When setting a boundary be clear, direct, and firm. Do not apologize or justify your position.
Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable answering that,” consider “I don’t answer personal questions.”
Name the behavior you want stopped rather than focusing on the driver himself.
Instead of saying, “You’re being inappropriate,” consider “Commenting on my appearance is not appropriate.”
It’s helpful to have some “go to” replies ready. Thinking of what to say in a moment of fear and discomfort can be challenging. Share strategies with your friends. Having conversations about these topics can be challenging, but it raises awareness.
4. Do Not Provide Personal Details
Be cautious of what information you volunteer as well as what the driver may ask about. Do not provide your phone number, place of employment, or any details that could be compromising. It’s possible to still be friendly and honor that your driver is a fellow human without giving away personal details.
You may also want to consider putting in the cross streets near your home rather than the exact address. After you get dropped off, wait until your driver leaves before heading to your door. This one may be overly-cautious, but if it feels right to you, trust yourself.
5. Know and Use the Apps Safety Features
Lyft and Uber both have safety features within their apps. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with these features and where they are located in the app. Keep in mind apps change over time. Lyft has a “Share ETA” button to let your friends know where you are and Uber has a “Share Status” button. Additionally you can call 911 directly from the Uber app in an emergency.
Keep your phone out during the trip. If things become uncomfortable and you freeze or become panicked, it’s an extra step to have to find your phone and access the app.
You can signal the driver by making it clear that someone knows you are in the car and is waiting for you to arrive. You can also do this by making a phone call to someone and saying you are in the car with the driver now and should be home shortly.
6. Report Bad Behavior
If you’ve had a bad experience, if a driver has made you feel uncomfortable or did not respect your boundaries, rate them appropriately and if necessary report it directly to the rideshare company. Lyft and Uber both have 24/7 incident lines.
When you rate your driver do not prioritize your perception of their feelings over your own sense of safety. Trust yourself. Raising awareness helps to protect others.
If you feel comfortable, talk about the incident and post about it online. You are not responsible for their PR, share whenever you have a bad experience and put the pressure on them to continue to improve safety standards, screen and train drivers, and take responsibility for their service.
7. Perspective and Practice
A healthy self-defense mindset is to take preventive steps and be aware. If you follow some basic safety practices you can free your mind and nervous system up to enjoy your life knowing that you can switch gears quickly in an emergency. Remember that hyper-vigilance is an indication of trauma. Whenever possible take care of yourself after any incident where you feel scared or threatened.
Even with tools and practices it can be very challenging to stand up for yourself and to speak up or act in the moment. Getting practice setting boundaries, owning your no, and learning to respond instead of react can be very helpful. In our monthly Self-Defense for Women workshop at Fighting Chance Seattle we emphasize untangling social conditioning and narratives that disempower women. If you’re in the Seattle area you can join us for a one-day class to experience the power of your body, voice, and intuition.
Jordan Giarratano is the curriculum designer and head instructor of Fighting Chance Seattle. He leads workshops on Self-Defense for Women and Men’s Allyship for individuals in Seattle and Onsite Workplace Training for businesses and organizations throughout the United States.