Safety on rideshare: Tips for staying safe and being situationally aware

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska Spurred by the murder of a college student in South Carolina over the weekend people are once again talking about rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.

"We believe she may have mistakenly gotten into the Impala thinking it was an Uber ride," said Columbia Police Chief William "Skip" Holbrook. She was later found dead by hunters in rural Clarendon Co.

We reached out to the UAF police department as well as FPD and as of publish neither have supplied any safety tips or recommendations for users of rideshare in the community.

Both Uber and Lyft have active drivers in Fairbanks and with a fairly active nightlife there are many people in the community that use the services frequently.

We have compiled a list of recommended safety measures to make sure your experience with rideshare services are safe and positive.

Uber recommends the following tips on their website for staying safe:

“To help keep riders safe, we vet Uber driver-partners and build our technology with safety in mind. But there are also things that you as a rider can do to stay safe. We worked with law enforcement to create this list of tips to help you stay safe while riding with Uber. “

1. Plan ahead. Before you request a ride, think about where you’re headed and review the safety features in the app so you know how to use them.
2. Request your ride inside. Avoid spending unnecessary time outside alone with your phone in your hand. Instead, wait indoors until the app shows your driver has arrived.
3. Get in the right car. Before you get in the car, check that license plate, driver photo, and driver name all match what’s listed in the app. Uber rides can only be requested through the app, so never get in a car with a driver who claims to be with Uber and offers a ride.
4. Be a backseat rider. If you’re riding alone, sit in the backseat. This ensures you can safely exit on either side of the vehicle to avoid moving traffic, and it gives you and your driver some personal space.
5. Buckle up. The Centers for Disease Control reports that seatbelt use is the most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries related to car accidents.
6. Share your trip details with a friend. While en route, tap “Share status” in the app to share your driver’s name, photo, license plate, and location with a friend or family member. They can track your trip and see your ETA without downloading the Uber app.
7. Protect your personal information. There’s no need to share your phone number or other contact information with your driver. If a rider and driver need to contact each other, the Uber app automatically anonymizes both phone numbers to protect everyone’s privacy.
8. Follow your intuition. Trust your instincts and use your best judgement when riding with Uber. And if you ever feel you’re in an emergency situation, call 911 immediately.
9. Be kind and respectful. As outlined in our community guidelines, please respect your driver and his or her car.
10. Give feedback on your trip. Your feedback helps us improve the Uber experience for everyone. Our 24/7 global support team reviews feedback and will follow up with appropriate action on any reports of conduct that violate our community guidelines.

Both Lyft and Uber have statements on their website talking about the process that drivers have to go through in order to work for them.
Uber said the following about their drivers, “Before anyone can drive with Uber, they must undergo a multi-point review of driving history and criminal history. Screenings check for moving violations, drinking- and drug-related offenses, violent crime, and felonies. If a potential driver qualifies, they still have to remain in good standing with the law to stay in the Uber community.”

Going on to mention that drivers have to periodically upload selfies to their driver profile, further confirming that the correct driver is behind the wheel.

Lyft goes into further detail outlining all the things their background check looks for before someone is hired, also listing out all of the ways someone can be disqualified from driving.

• Are listed on the National Sex Offender Registry database;
• Have been convicted at any time of a disqualifying violent crime (such as homicide, kidnapping, human trafficking, arson, burglary, carjacking, robbery, or aggravated assault);
• Have been convicted at any time of a sexual offense (such as rape, sexual assault, or child pornography);
• Have been convicted at any time of an act of terror;
• Have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the past seven years, or longer in some jurisdictions;
• Have been convicted of a disqualifying fraud-related offense in the past seven years for most jurisdictions, although this time frame may be longer, or shorter, in certain jurisdictions;
• Have been convicted of a disqualifying drug-related offense in the past seven years for most jurisdictions, although this time frame may be longer, or shorter, in certain jurisdictions;
• Have been convicted of a disqualifying theft or property damage offense in the past seven years for most jurisdictions, although this time frame may be longer, or shorter, in certain jurisdictions.

"Safety is our top priority and it is our goal to make every ride safe, comfortable, and reliable. Since the beginning, we have worked hard to design policies and features that protect our community. People say they use Lyft because they feel safe with our drivers, which is a product of this commitment." Said Lyft CEO and co-founder Logan Green.

Above all else it is always important to be situationally aware.

According to an article published in Campus Safety magazine, “The U.S. Coast Guard defines situational awareness as 'the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regard to the mission.' More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you.”

It goes on to state the following:

“Kevin Reeve, founder of onPoint Tactical, describes situational awareness as the acquired “ability to scan the environment and sense danger, challenges, and opportunities … in the course of normal activity … in sufficient time to affect an outcome.”

Two aspects of this definition are worth noting here. First, this is an acquired skill set; learned rather than inherited. Second, if properly executed, the ultimate value of situational awareness is that it endows the educated practitioner with enough time and choices to mitigate events.

Choosing to be situationally aware is essentially an act of will that typically involves three steps:

1. Understanding what constitutes the “baseline”
2. Being sensitive to “normalcy bias”
3. Refusing to be distracted by “focus lock”

The “baseline” is simply an appreciation of what is usual, common or normal for a given environment or activity. Are vehicles parked in appropriate spots? Are doors locked that are required to be locked? Is there a fire extinguisher available and does the AED work, and if so, do I know how to operate either? In an active shooter event, where is the nearest shelter with a locking door?

“Normalcy bias” refers to the natural human tendency to minimize the unusual to make a given situation more psychologically manageable and ourselves more comfortable. Exercises and after action reports have shown time and again that the more intensely frightening the event, the greater the urge to rationalize and discount the initial perceptions, often with unfortunate results.

What’s the takeaway? If it sounds like a gunshot or smells like smoke, act immediately as though it were a gunshot or fire. Few would disagree that it is infinitely preferable to risk feeling a little foolish than to become a victim.

Finally, “focus lock” refers to those distractors that routinely compete for our attention that can be particularly detrimental… Whether being mesmerized by something on your cell phone or having tunnel vision in the response phase of an incident, we lose sight of the big picture.”

Whether it’s walking around town or walking to a class on campus, taking a ride share, or meeting a friend for a drink it is always important to stay safe and situationally aware.

Resources for more information:

Huffington Post - Situational Awareness: A Key to Your Safety

Campus Safety - 10 Tips for Improving Your Situational Awareness on Campus

Uber Safety Tips - Staying safe while riding with Uber

Lyft Safety