Uber Safety Report Says Sexual Assaults Down but Rate of Traffic Deaths Up
Uber said in a safety report on Thursday that sexual assaults in its ride-hailing vehicles were down significantly since its last report but that the rate of fatal car crashes had increased.
The company said 3,824 sexual assaults were reported on its U.S. platform in 2019 and 2020, while 20 people were killed in assaults and 101 died in crashes.
The report was a sequel to Uber’s initial report, which it released in 2019. The company committed to releasing reports every two years, but it said the new review had been slowed by a pandemic-related delay in 2020 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Uber uses the agency’s methodology and data standards to analyze vehicle fatalities.
Reported sexual assaults were down from 5,981 in 2017 and 2018, the period covered by Uber’s first report, though the company logged far fewer trips in 2020 because of the pandemic: 650 million compared with 1.4 billion in 2019. Still, Uber said the rate of reported sexual assaults had decreased 38 percent.
Deaths from assaults were similar from 19 in the previous period, as were fatal crashes, which killed 107 people in 2017 and 2018. Uber said the spike in the rate of fatal car crashes reflected an overall deadlier year on the roads in 2020, which is backed by data from NHTSA.
Deaths increased that year in part because of speeding on less-crowded highways during the pandemic, making it the deadliest year since 2007, NHTSA said, Though most of the Uber-related vehicle deaths in the two years occurred in 2019, the rate was higher in 2020.
The company said that 99.9 percent of Uber rides take place without incident, and that just 0.0002 percent of all rides include one of the critical safety incidents mentioned in the report. The data does not include injuries and tallies only rides, not food deliveries on UberEats.
Uber has tried to reshape its image, and releasing safety data has been seen a key component of that makeover.
The company has added safety options in recent years, such as the ability for drivers to film rides and for both drivers and riders to record audio from them in the Uber app. Uber said that more than 500,000 prospective drivers had failed to pass its screening process in 2019 and 2020, and that more than 80,000 drivers had been removed from the app as a result of the company’s continuous checking of criminal records.
“Secrecy doesn’t make anyone safer,” Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, said in a statement. “That’s why we call on companies across the industry to step up and also be honest with the public about their safety records.”
He added, “By confronting the issue and counting reports consistently, we can work together to help end sexual violence.”
In recent months, driver advocacy organizations and members of Congress have pressured gig companies to improve the safety of their drivers, and one report estimated that at least 50 gig drivers had been killed on the job since 2017. Uber’s report Thursday said 19 drivers were killed in 2019 and 2020 — 14 in crashes and five in assaults.
Uber works with insurance companies to help drivers with accidents and injuries, and pays for injury protection insurance in some states where laws require it, said Andrew Hasbun, a company spokesman. The company also offers an Uber-specific hotline for survivors of sexual assault, in partnership with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, he said.
Cherri Murphy, a former Lyft driver and spokeswoman for Gig Workers Rising, a driver advocacy group, questioned whether driving for Uber was safe.
“Uber executives want you to think that throwing numbers and statistics at the reporters will fool us into believing Uber is safe for workers and for passengers,” Ms. Murphy said in a statement. “But workers have long known that the safety features they speak of are fake, and fail to keep workers safe.”
Uber said that it could not provide numbers about Covid-19 exposure or deaths among Uber drivers, but that it had allocated $50 million globally toward safety supplies like masks and hand sanitizer, and given drivers affected by Covid more than $40 million in aid.
Uber divides reported sexual assault into five categories, including nonconsensual kissing, rape and attempted rape. The largest number of reports were “nonconsensual touching of a sexual body part.”
Across the five categories, alleged perpetrators and targets were roughly split between riders and drivers. Drivers were accused of assault in 56 percent of cases and riders in 43 percent. Drivers were the victim in 39 percent and riders in 61 percent.
Indira Henard, a member of Uber’s Safety Advisory Board and the executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, said releasing data about sexual assaults could help dispel stigma around an underreported type of crime.
“By being transparent with their safety record, Uber is aiming to stop the silence around gender-based violence,” Dr. Henard said in an interview.