Last week, Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old college student in South Carolina, was found dead after getting into a car that police said she mistook for her Uber.
The suspect, who is not a driver for Uber or Lyft, has been apprehended and charged, but ride-share app users may still be a little spooked and concerned about the safety of using the apps and others like them.
An Uber spokesperson told HuffPost that since 2017, the company has been working with law enforcement to educate the public about how to avoid fake ride-share drivers, and in the coming weeks, the company is launching a social media campaign called Check Your Ride in an effort to increase awareness and safety. (Lyft has not responded to a request for comment.)
While these steps are helpful, no one knows ride-sharing better than the drivers. HuffPost reached out to two drivers for Uber and Lyft, who shared their best advice for getting to your destination as safely as possible.
Check The License Plate
“The best way to ensure that you’re getting into the right car is making sure it matches the license plate in the app,” said Harry Campbell, the founder of The Rideshare Guy and author of The Rideshare Guide. Campbell is an Uber, Lyft and Doordash driver based in LA.
“I always tell passengers you can use the make and the model to identify the car, but you never want to get into a car that doesn’t have a license plate or doesn’t match the car in your app,” he said.
Uber echoed this important step. “When requesting a trip through the Uber app, you receive the driver’s photo, name, the car make/model and license plate number,” an Uber spokesperson said. “We remind riders to double check these two important details before starting a trip: the driver and the car.”
Know What Questions To Ask And Answer
While many of us enjoy a silent ride, there’s a little bit of small talk that should always be exchanged before getting into the car.
“The drivers are required to know your name and destination before you get in,” said Chelsea Burton, who drove for Uber in Minneapolis. “I would recommend, before getting inside the car, basically asking the driver to parrot that info back to you. Because if they don’t know you, there’s something wrong.”
Burton also recommended asking the driver’s name to make sure it matches the person on your app before buckling in.
Keep Your Wits About You
One great thing about the advent of apps like Uber and Lyft is that they provide a convenient, safe option to get home after a night of drinking. But a fun night out can make it easy to forget standard safety checks.
“Getting extremely impaired increases your chances of something going wrong during or after the ride,” said Campbell.
Also, don’t assume that all Uber or Lyft drivers are good people.
“I’ve never personally been concerned about registered drivers doing something dangerous. That’s because the background checks are strong enough that they’d have to be really stupid to do something and think they’ll get away with it. But some people are that stupid,” reminded Burton.
Watch Where You Sit
“If a driver asks you to get into the front seat, that’s a good opportunity to reassess the situation,” Campbell said. “I also don’t recommend sitting directly behind the driver. That’s always kind of weird. Late at night, a driver could be transporting someone and if you sit right behind them, they can’t see you, and you can’t see them and what they may be up to.”
Campbell recommended always sitting in the back seat on the passenger’s side for both your safety and the driver’s comfort.
Get Picked Up And Dropped Of In A Safe Location
“It’s best to get picked up in a populated area, maybe not in the middle of a throng of people,” Campbell recommended. “When the bars let out, a lot of people call a ride right in front of a bar, and it may be unsafe to pull over, or it may be difficult to find your driver. Maybe look for an area that may be one or two minutes away that’s still a safe, well-lit area.”
Burton advised getting in and out at a secure location but not necessarily at your home. “It’s never a good idea to let strangers know your exact address. If the weather is good enough and you feel safe, why not just have yourself dropped off a block away?”
Look Out For Red Flags
In addition to checking your driver’s license plate and name, there are a few other things riders should be aware of.
“Look out for drivers who are not in the car that the app says they’re supposed to be driving or they’re not seeming sober or there’s someone else in the car with them, like their friend or someone. I would recommend not getting into those cars and calling another ride,” Burton said.
Don’t Be Afraid To Get Out
If you’re already in your car and you spot a red flag or two, don’t be afraid to end the ride early.
“Look for opportunities where you can easily escape and always try to defuse the situation,” said Campbell. “Say something like, ‘I just got an emergency text or phone call. Can you pull over?’”
“What you can also do is just add a stop that’s midride or close to where you currently are and then just get out at that stop,” Burton said.
Communication Is Key
Above all, Campbell and Burton stressed that staying in communication with your driver can keep both of you safe. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions.
“I definitely feel more safe and comfortable when the driver waits until I get inside [the building], especially when it’s dark. It doesn’t hurt to just ask them to do that,” Burton said.
You should also keep in touch with friends so they can also be aware of your location.
“Uber and Lyft both have an option to share your trip with a friend or family member. So they know that you’re getting home safely and on time,” Campbell said. “Every time you get into the car, you shouldn’t have to do a 12-point safety check, but there are definitely some things to look out for.”