Uber plans to add a panic button to its mobile app in Chicago that users can press to alert police if they feel threatened.
Uber’s Midwest Regional Manager Andrew MacDonald could not offer a specific time frame on when the feature would make its local debut while addressing the Sun-Times editorial board Thursday. He said it would happen in the “next several months.”
Uber General Manager Chris Taylor said it was unclear if Chicago would be the first U.S. city to test the safety device but noted that “as it is perfected, it will become something that is more broadly used.”
The panic button was first implemented in India earlier this month following rape allegations against an Uber driver.
Two Uber drivers in Chicago were charged in recent months with sexually assaulting a passenger.
The upcoming safety measure was alternately referred to as an SOS button or a panic button by Uber officials Thursday.
The measure would be in addition to a sort of secret shopper program that was rolled out in January in Chicago. It employs 10 off-duty Chicago Police officers to take Uber rides one day a month and report back on the experience.
Uber drivers, who provide about 2 million rides a month in Chicago, have been warned the program exists, which creates a deterrent effect, said Phillip Cardenas, Uber’s head of safety. But the off-duty officers do not feign conditions that leave riders most vulnerable: intoxicated very late at night, Taylor said.
First-time users in Illinois, since January, also get a safety lesson in how to use Uber in the form of a screen pop-up on the app.
Cardenas said rider feedback via the Uber app is also constantly monitored. Simply using the word “creepy” to describe an “Uber” driver would likely cause officials at the company to disable the driver’s account and investigate.
Cardenas noted that background checks that are conducted by Uber look seven years back into a potential driver’s criminal history — two years more than required by the city. He described Uber’s background check practice as a “gold standard” of the industry and equated it to the process used by one of the nation’s largest daycare providers.
Perhaps the greatest safeguard, though, is the fact that both rider and driver provide large amounts of personal information to Uber, and both are being tracked by GPS during the course of a ride.
“The reality of it is, if you have bad intent, an Uber trip is the worst place to commit a crime,” MacDonald said. “To put it crassly, you’re going to get caught.”