Ride safe, because danger is closer than you think

Denise Emerson

Two women entered what they believed to be their ride-hail after a night of drinking. When they arrived at their first destination, one of the women stepped out to help her friend get out of the car. Instead, she was knocked to the side of the road as the driver sped away with her incapacitated friend. That driver was arrested after being accused of assaulting the two women. This is only one of the many recent ride-hail incidents in Austin.

Uber, RideAustin and Lyft have become extremely popular ride-hailing apps among students who need a safe ride out or back home. Many students don’t have cars, and bus routes can be confusing and inconsistent. However, many ride-hailing app drivers have been accused of sexual assault in Austin in the last three years. Students should keep safety in mind when using these apps.

Over the years, ride-hailing apps have become so commonplace that people don’t question who’s driving anymore. SURE Ride, a program at UT that aims to provide safe transportation for students, partnered with Lyft to provide a limited free service. The free rides operate from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. and have to originate on campus and end in approved zones. 

When the University partners with a service, students believe that this service is safe for them to use. UT students who use ride-hailing apps can’t let the apps’ popularity desensitize them from the risks. As more sexual assaults have piled up, these apps continue to prosper.

This past summer, the driver who sped away with the aforementioned incapacitated woman was also accused by multiple women of sexual assault, kidnapping and theft. He was posing as a driver in these instances, but did have driver accounts with at least one ride-hailing company. Similarly, in fall 2017, two men who worked for Lyft and RideAustin were arrested on sexual assault charges.

Brianna Reyes, a rhetoric and writing freshman, said she uses ride-hailing apps out of convenience but feels afraid when she does.

“I actually had to take a Lyft from Riverside at night, so I was by myself,” Reyes said. “So yeah, I’ve been scared.”

RideAustin, a local nonprofit, provides female riders with the option to choose female drivers. Many students assume RideAustin is more expensive than Uber or Lyft, but actually, the app lowered its rates to be a penny cheaper than its competitors in 2017.

“I would probably do that if I was put into that situation where I had to drive home from a shady area at night,” Reyes said. “If it’s only like a dollar more — what’s a dollar for my safety?”

Anthropology senior Allie Melson uses ride-hailing apps when going out with friends. She doesn’t ever ride alone, but said she would if she had to. She also carries a taser. 

“It’s a small, pink taser,” Melson said. “You can charge it by plugging it into an outlet — very convenient.”

Both women said they were unaware of RideAustin’s female-only driver option and neither had heard about the most recent ride-hailing sexual assault cases in Austin.

It’s important to take precautions and be aware of the dangers of ride-hailing apps. Self-defense tools, such as mace or tasers, should be in every young woman’s purse or backpack. Don’t accept water or food from your drivers, and make sure to check that your drivers’ name and the license plate is the same as the ones on the app. If you’re out drinking, try to get a friend to be a designated driver or at least have a designated sober friend to ride with you. 

Emerson is a journalism and radio-television-film sophomore from San Antonio.