Hundreds of women have filed lawsuits against Uber, alleging that the company has not done enough to prevent instances of sexual assault by drivers. Recently, a panel of judges ruled that over 80 cases can be consolidated into federal court. This decision has significant implications for both Uber and its riders and drivers, as it could lead to major changes in Uber’s platform to address sexual assault and raise privacy concerns.
Uber has made attempts to address sexual assaults by introducing safety features in its app, such as a 911 button and the option to share location with a friend. However, survivors and their attorneys argue that these responses are inadequate and call for better technological solutions like in-vehicle surveillance cameras. While Uber has added various features to the app over the years, survivors claim that more needs to be done to ensure passenger safety.
Rachel Abrams, a sexual assault attorney and partner at law firm Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, argues that app-based solutions are only partial measures and have not effectively prevented instances of sexual violence. She believes that mandatory in-vehicle cameras in Uber cars are essential for safety. However, Uber has not commented on why it has been slow to implement such security cameras, and issues such as privacy concerns and varying legality across local and state laws may be contributing factors.
In addition to in-vehicle surveillance, the survivors in the joined lawsuit are also demanding more extensive background checks for drivers. They call on Uber to include fingerprinting as part of the screening process, which would involve running prospective drivers through FBI databases. Uber has lobbied against additional background requirements, arguing that smudged fingerprints can lead to inaccurate results and that relying on arrest records can have discriminatory effects on some minority communities.
The survivors’ demands also include driver training on interactions with passengers, a zero-tolerance policy for drivers, sexual harassment education, and training, as well as an improved system to encourage customer reporting and monitor complaints. These measures aim to create a safer environment for Uber passengers.
Concerns have also been raised about the effectiveness of Uber’s in-app safety features. Abrams argues that these features are insufficient because they rely on the rider having access to their own phone, which may not always be the case in real-life scenarios. She highlights that many survivors she has interviewed have faced situations where someone else ordered the ride for them, their phone was dead or misplaced, or they were incapacitated. Abrams claims that there has been no significant difference in the number of attacks before and after the implementation of these in-app features.
Uber’s published safety reports show a decrease in the reported rate of sexual assault on the app. However, it is important to note that the total number of sexual assault reports also decreased during the same period, which could be attributed to a decrease in the overall number of trips. The number of incidents in specific categories, such as nonconsensual kissing, touching, and penetration, actually increased between certain years, indicating that improvements still need to be made.
The pretrial proceedings will be overseen by Judge Charles Breyer in the Northern District of California. The timeline for these proceedings is expected to last one to two years. Another consolidated lawsuit has also been filed in California, specifically covering survivors in that state.
The outcome of these cases will not only impact the future of Uber but also the safety of its riders and drivers. It remains to be seen whether the court’s decision will lead to significant changes in Uber’s platform and practices to address sexual assault and prioritize passenger safety.