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Uber app offers a new way to contact emergency services

Safety is everything for ridesharing services. If they can’t keep their passengers safe and fail to take measures to improve personal security, few people will want to use such offerings.

With that in mind, Uber is beginning to roll out a new feature that lets riders quietly text 911 if a dangerous or scary situation develops during a trip and they need help fast.

Uber riders can already call 911 from the app, but the new text-to-911 feature offers a more discreet way of calling for help, which could prove vital if the driver is the source of the problem and the rider wants to alert the police without drawing attention for fear of making the situation worse. It also allows the rider to stay in touch with the dispatcher, which could provide reassurance and also help the vehicle to be located more quickly.

The feature has already been tested in Los Angeles, Indiana, and Minnesota and is now available in locations across the U.S. where the emergency services are able to receive texts, Uber told Digital Trends.

How it works

First, open the app’s Safety Toolkit and tap on 911 assistance. Next, you’ll see an option to call 911, or, if the feature is available in your area, a button to send a text instead.

Tap on this option and the message auto-populates with details of your ride. You can also add more information before sending the message to a 911 dispatcher who can respond by text and also send assistance.

Safety report

Uber has come under heavy criticism in the past for its safety record but in recent years has been steadily adding various safety-related features, including real-time driver ID check, 24/7 support, and the ability to share trip details with friends and family.

Uber’s first-ever safety report, published at the end of 2019, showed that it received reports of more than 3,000 sexual assaults alleged to have taken place during Uber trips in the U.S. in 2018.

While the company acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, it was also keen to point out that 99.9% of the 2.3 billion U.S. Uber trips occurring throughout 2017 and 2018 took place without any reported safety issues.

Responding at the time to the contents of the report, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said: “I suspect many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they’re still too common. Some people will appreciate how much we’ve done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right.”

Lyft also has an in-app 911 button, but doesn’t yet include a text-to-911 feature. We’ve reached out to Uber’s ridesharing rival to ask if it’s planning to introduce such a feature.

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Trevor Mogg
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