The 65-year-old Uber driver was on his third day on the job when a young passenger allegedly brutally attacked him.
In an attempt to flee, the driver razed through several residential mailboxes in a cul-de-sac in Stafford County, Virginia, police said. He sustained injuries to his neck and lower left leg.
The July 20 incident is one of the latest in which passengers have assaulted drivers of the popular car service – an obscure side issue of the debate surrounding safety in ridesharing, which mostly has focused on the protection of passengers.
“The truth is that most of our safety incidents are abusive riders on drivers,” David Plouffe, Uber’s chief adviser, told a group of journalists gathered in Washington last week.
The San-Francisco-based company declined to provide data to back Plouffe’s assertion. But company officials say they use technology to track passengers’ bad behavior. Specifically, Uber depends on its rating system, which allows riders and drivers to rate each other after a ride using a scale of 1 to 5 stars. When a rating is low, Uber can investigate and terminate the user’s access to Uber.
“Really abusive riders can get kicked off the platform,” Plouffe said.
Uber spokeswoman Brooke Anderson confirmed that riders have been deactivated for bad conduct, but declined to provide data. She said a decision to end someone’s access is not only based on the rating, but takes into account feedback from the driver and rider.
“We may reach out to the driver and the rider to investigate why this happened and if either violated our community guidelines they could indeed lose access,” she explained. “It’s important to have the context of why the 1-star rating occurred.”
“Feedback is a two-way street and it’s a core part of our commitment to create a good experience for both drivers and riders,” she said.
Uber’s competitor, Lyft, said it also takes “all user ratings and driver feedback very seriously.” The company has a policy that if you rate someone 3 stars or below, you’ll never be matched with them again.
Uber says when an incident occurs, the company works closely with authorities to help track down suspects. In the Stafford County case, for example, police identified and arrested the 16-year-old suspect from leads and cooperation with Uber.
Police said when the driver picked up the passenger he received instructions to drive the passenger to a nearby McDonalds, but the young man told the driver to change the destination. When they arrived at a secluded area, the suspect began to strike the driver in the head with an in-ground solar light fixture and then began to choke him. The young man was arrested a day later.
Last February, three men were arrested after allegedly attacking an Uber driver in Arlington County, Virginia, in an incident where police said one of the suspects punched out the window of an SUV before another threw a beer bottle in the driver’s face.
In December, a California man was caught on video repeatedly hitting a driver and pulling his hair.
Even as ridesharing has become a popular transportation option, concerns remain about the safety and risks of driving and riding with strangers. While advocates typically have focused attention on protecting riders, there is also growing demand from drivers to address the challenges they encounter on the road.
In response to drivers’ concerns, the Independent Drivers Guild, the first labor organization for Uber drivers now representing 35,000 New York City drivers, recently launched a safety committee to focus on issues of driver safety. Spokeswoman Moira Muntz said the union is “exploring the best way to share safety best practices for drivers, including possibly a course.”
Uber says it expects a trip to be a good experience for drivers and passengers.
“Drivers shouldn’t have to deal with aggressive, violent, or disrespectful riders,” the company says. “If a rider exhibits disrespectful, threatening or unsafe behavior, they, too, may no longer be able to use the service.”
As far as passengers, Plouffe said there are tools to help them feel safe during a ride. Not only is the ride GPS tracked, he said, but passengers can also share their route in real time with friends and family. Uber says new technology now allows the company to track when a driver is driving erratically.
“One incident is always one too many,” said Plouffe. “We do our best to provide a [lot] of security.”