Uber’s (newish) CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says he’s all about safety — for riders, drivers, pedestrians, and other people on the road.
That’s why last month he spearheaded a series of new features and updates to the ride-hailing app. A suite of new safety features, including more vigorous driver background checks, a list of trusted contacts to alert about your travel plans, and a new in-app safety center were previewed. On Tuesday, they’re going live.
As part of the new safety rollout, a 911 button will be available to all riders. In the coming months, the driver app will offer a similar safety tool to dial law enforcement directly. Live location sharing to emergency dispatchers in seven initial cities will also go live.
As part of a pilot with RapidSOS, Uber can give even more precise information about your location and the type of vehicle you’re in when calling about an emergency. The first cities to test the in-app feature are Denver; Charleston; South Carolina; Nashville, Tenn.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Naples, Florida; Tri-Cities, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky.
The 911 button comes up in the app.
Uber director of safety products Sachin Kansal said in a phone call that the 911 button is “one of those features where I want engagement to be low.”
That is to say, he doesn’t want people to have to use the safety button or location-sharing service, but if something comes up, he wants people to know exactly where it is and how it works on the Uber app.
His team has been developing it for the past six months, after riders and drivers said they wanted quicker access to first responders.
“It would give them more peace of mind while they’re traveling,” he said.
So the team created a button and put it on the front of the home screen. They worked with law enforcement and dispatch offices to build the feature and integrate the Uber location data into call systems. Often, when people call 911, they don’t know where they are exactly, and cellphone tower data can be somewhat inaccurate. Uber already has access to more exact GPS coordinates, so it wrangled that into the new feature.
Kansal wanted to strike a “healthy balance” with the 911 button “at your fingertips but not unintentionally dialing” emergency services. Although easily accessible through the app interface, actually placing a call to 911 is a two-step process.
Ride-hailing app competitor Lyft also focuses on rider safety and encourages calls to 911 when necessary. They have a critical response line to connect riders with the company.