Uber is adding features to its app aimed at keeping riders feel safer, and announced a former Homeland Security secretary will lead its board of safety advisors.
“Helping keep people safe is a huge responsibility, and one we do not take lightly, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a blog post on the company’s website. “That’s why as CEO, I’m committed to putting safety at the core of everything we do.”
One feature allows riders to designate people as trusted contacts and be prompted in their app to share information on where they are in their trip during rides. Uber also says it will beef up background checks on drivers.
A proposed class action suit filed last year alleged Uber doesn’t adequately vet drivers, and that its failure to do so has led to female passengers having to endure sexual harassment, and in some cases being raped. There have been other reports of drivers assaulting passengers, as well.
The Uber app will also add an emergency button that can connect riders to 911 with one touch, Khosrowshahi said in the post, added to the company’s website last week. The company will also start using a system in some cities that can give 911 dispatchers information about where the caller is automatically, with no need for the caller to try to tell them where the Uber car they’re in is. That service will start first in Denver, Khosrowshahi said.
“If a rider uses Uber’s emergency button in one of our pilot cities, their location and trip details will be automatically sent to the 911 dispatcher,” he wrote. “We’ll be monitoring this pilot closely and evaluating further expansion.”
Khosrowshahi also said the company would beef up its background checks on drivers, re-running background checks every year, whether local regulation require the company to do so or not.
“Uber will go beyond annual reruns and be among the first to invest in technology that rapidly identifies new offenses,” he said. “Using data sources that cover most new criminal offenses, we will receive notifications when a driver is involved and leverage this information to help continuously enforce our screening standards. We will investigate and verify any potentially disqualifying information from public records, such as a new and pending charge for a DUI, to ensure the driver is still eligible to use Uber.”‘
Uber said late last year that it would also be donating money to sexual assault prevention campaigns.
Khosrowshahi also announced that Jeh Johnson, who was U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security during the Obama Administration, is joining Uber’s Safety Advisory Board as chairman.
“These changes will build on the safety benefits that ridesharing already brings, such as helping people avoid drunk driving, providing GPS tracked records of every trip, and 24/7 feedback and response from our safety team,” Khosrowshahi said.