In wake of the many sexual harassment and violence complaints filed by Uber passengers, the ride-hailing service has rolled out a new passenger safety feature known as the Panic Button, across the U.S.
Uber had been very concerned about its flagging safety reputation and had announced in April that it was working on a feature that would allow passengers to call 911 within its app during the ride. On Tuesday, the company announced the panic button that would be fully operational in the U.S for now.
The safety feature will be located in a “safety center” menu that would be easily accessible within the Uber app. The safety center will also include information about driving screening process, insurance protections and community guidelines.
In case of an emergency, passengers can easily call 911 by swiping up on the safety center icon and then tapping the “911 assistance”. Before actually putting the call through, the passengers will be asked whether they mean to call. This confirmation will be done to avoid accidental dials, explained Uber’s director of product management, Sachin Kansal.
The panic button was first tested out in India.
As part of the new panic button feature, Uber is also announcing a 911 integration that would allow a passenger’s location and trip details directly sent to the 911 dispatcher. Now this will also help with the location spotting difficulties that the 911 dispatcher is facing in the U.S. According to a recent USA Today report, the success rate for locating a phone that is calling can range from as low as 10 percent. The location sharing is currently being tested in Denver, Colorado; Charleston, South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Naples, Florida.
As almost all of the safety complaints are against drivers, the feature is focused at passenger safety. However the company aims to release a similar feature for driver’s too, in case if they are being subjected to any form of harassment.
Kansal says that the panic button would compel both riders and drivers to behave well.
“We realize that a lot of situations and a lot of criminal activity arises when people think they’re not being watched,” said Kansal. “And we just want to say that we’re turning the lights on. Part of turning the lights on is providing these features to both sides and also make sure we’re making the entire community aware of the presence of these features.”
All these safety measures are a part of Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s efforts to fix the company’s damaged safety reputation. Last year, Uber was sued by a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India while the top executives including the CEO of that time Travis Kalanick obtained and mishandled the woman’s medical reports to discredit her. Citing the company’s poor approach to safety, the city of London had announced that it would not renew Uber’s license. Uber appealed the decision and is operational in the city.
Khosrowshahi says that the emergency button “is just the beginning”.
“This is like we’ve started really working on this in a heavy and determined way as a company. And this is going to be a real differentiator for us. And by the way, the benefit is it’s a good thing for everybody,” he added.