If you sit in an Uber car for too long, the ride-hailing company plans to check up on you to make sure all is OK.
That’s one of several new features Uber Technologies Inc. unveiled on Wednesday meant to make trips safer for riders and drivers. Others include an emergency button for drivers, voice-activated commands and anonymous pickup addresses — using cross streets, for example.
Catastrophes of all sorts — collisions, assaults, rape and even murder — take place in ride-hailing vehicles around the globe. Didi Chuxing, China’s largest service for booking car rides, is trying to avert a customer boycott after two women were allegedly killed by their drivers over the last few months. Didi said on Tuesday that it was suspending late-night service on the mainland for a week as it works on new safety measures.
Uber is trying to use its technical know-how to make terrible incidents on its own platform less likely. Dara Khosrowshahi, who joined the San Francisco-based company as chief executive officer exactly a year ago, marked the anniversary with a news conference in New York focused on safety programs.
“Safety should be our No. 1 priority,” Khosrowshahi said onstage. “We want you to know when you get in that car, whether you’re a rider or a driver, that Uber has your back.”
Customers can expect to see the new features in their app over the next few months, and Uber has more to come later, the company said.
Uber and its main U.S. rival, Lyft Inc., are racing to make their platforms safer. In May, both companies committed to releasing data about safety incidents on their platforms. In an interview last month, Khosrowshahi reiterated his commitment to disclose such information, including statistics on sexual assaults and collisions, sometime next year.
Ride-hailing companies have long faced questions over how thoroughly they vet their drivers. Both Uber and Lyft have resisted fingerprint background checks in most states, even as they increasingly rely on technology, rather than direct human oversight, to monitor their drivers.
For Uber, safety issues go beyond human drivers. The company’s experiments with self-driving cars are still on hold after one of the vehicles hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March. In an interview Wednesday, Khosrowshahi said the new safety features were in the works before the fatal crash.
“But I think it was absolutely reconfirming how fundamental safety is in this day and age,” he said. “It’s on us to make sure that the platform is as safe as possible.”
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