Rules of the Road: Staying Safe While Ride-Sharing on Business

In 2011, SideCar – a peer-to-peer ride-sharing company and the first of its kind – was launched. In subsequent years, this new business model exploded, and today one would be hard-pressed to find a city where it’s impossible to quickly arrange a ride in a stranger’s car.

The initial boom produced dozens of zippy-named startups, but in 2018 the ride-share menu has narrowed to just two mainstream services: Uber and Lyft. In recent years, the two ride-hailing giants have carved out a lucrative market in business-related travel. According to Certify, in the first quarter of 2018 alone Uber and Lyft took in over 70 percent of all ground transportation revenue from business travelers.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ride-sharing renaissance, but recent events have forced American travelers to take a critical eye to the future of these companies. Last year Uber faced backlash after an investigation yielded a staggering 103 U.S. company drivers had been accused of sexual assault in the last four years. The company responded swiftly, developing and releasing an in-app “panic button.” If a rider feels in danger, he or she can swipe up on the safety center icon on the app’s homepage and immediately connect with nearby emergency dispatchers.

This new feature is all well and good on Uber’s part, but what can business travelers proactively do to ensure personal safety while braving the questionable world of shared rides? Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez of the East Lansing Police Department said the ride-sharing community in the city is a relatively safe and reliable means of transportation, but alternative forms of transportation should be sought for those who feel uncomfortable.

However, considering that ride-sharing might be the only transportation available to some travelers, Gonzalez suggested that riders use a few simple safety measures before and during a ride.

“Ride with another person you know and let friends and/or family know where you’re going and when you’ll be returning,” he said.  “If available, keep a cellphone in hand while riding.

If a situation ever becomes dangerous, don’t hesitate to call 911.”         

The safest thing a rider can do is practice complete avoidance of any potential danger; however, it is equally important to be well-versed in reacting to danger at hand. Master John Faett of Victory Martial Arts in Okemos suggested at minimum a rudimentary understanding of self-defense if faced with physical danger on a ride.

“Basically, what we teach is ‘I’m not going to go with you,’ ” said Faett. “(If already inside a vehicle,) the first thing you should do is attempt an escape. After that, yes there is danger in attacking the driver of a vehicle, but it’s better to get in an accident than to be taken somewhere else.”

At Victory, Faett teaches Krav Maga, a form of martial arts used by Israeli commandos with the goal of being as effective as possible with as little training as possible. Faett went on to detail basic targeting for close-quarters combat.

“Self-defense is violent and dirty, and you need to respond to violent attacks in kind. In close proximity we aim for the eyes, the throat, the nose, the ears, the knee, the shin, the groin, etc.,” he said. “Scratch your assailant, throw elbows and knees. Even bite if you have to.”

Regardless of the unique circumstances surrounding any dangerous ride-sharing encounter, Faett stressed the importance of taking action.

“The truth is if someone confronts you violently, most of the time they assume you’ll do nothing,” he said. “Most people instinctively freeze. If you can respond with some sort of action, the attacker will mitigate the risk and may simply give up.”

Traveling for business can be daunting, even before one considers the possible dangers lurking between points A and B. In a perfect world, a mobile professional would be free to reap the benefits of ride-sharing without the fear of worst-case scenarios. However, that is not the world we live in, and proper precautions should be taken when stepping into a stranger’s vehicle:

  • If possible, ride with a person you know.
  • Let friends and family know where you are going and when you should be back.
  • If possible, keep a phone on your person.
  • If the situation warrants getting the authorities involved, don’t hesitate to call 911.
  • Try to avoid entering a suspicious vehicle at all costs.
  • If already in a dangerous situation on the road, attempt an escape.
  • Worst-case scenario: Put up a fight. Know where to hit and fight dirty. Doing nothing will only work to your detriment.
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