I’ll hopefully be heading to Indianapolis, Indiana in a few weeks to cover the NRA’s Annual Meeting, but if I’m able to make it this year my plan is to drive the roughly 10 hours rather than fly. I’m not doing that specifically to avoid having to depend on Uber or Lyft while I’m in town, but it’s an added bonus. I try my best not to use either company because of their policies requiring contracted drivers (and passengers) to be unarmed while on the clock; a policy that leaves drivers defenseless and unable to fight back if they’re the target of a violent encounter.
We’ve covered incidents of both unarmed drivers being killed and armed drivers losing their jobs after protecting their life over the past few years, as well as what appears to be a growing number of carjackers and armed robbers specifically targeting rideshare drivers, and the Indianapolis Star has now weighed in with an investigation of its own highlighting the dangers that drivers face when they get behind the wheel and clock in for their job.
Across the U.S., about 50 contract workers were killed while driving for Uber, Lyft and similar companies from 2017 to April 2022, according to the advocacy group Gig Workers Rising.The group used publicly available information from news reports, police documents, legal filings and family accounts to compile its data.In response to questions from IndyStar about driver concerns, Uber and Lyft provided information on safety measures the companies have in place.Uber’s measures include an emergency 911 button, live help from a safety agent and check-ins to make sure drivers and riders are OK in a crash or unexpected long stop. Drivers can share their trip route in real-time with other people, and the company now has an extra verification for riders using anonymous forms of payment, such as a gift card. The company also conducted an audit of rider names during the past year and froze accounts with names that were clearly fake.Lyft has similar safety measures in place, including on-call security professionals for drivers and check-ins on certain rides.Cherri Murphy, a spokesperson for Gig Workers Rising and former rideshare driver, said these measures are not enough.“Whether you are behind a desk or behind the wheel, everyone deserves safety, dignity and respect,” Murphy said. “It’s vital that we raise the alarm. Folks are getting hurt, or worse killed, without accountability from the companies and that’s the issue.”In each of the past two years in Indianapolis, a rideshare driver has been killed in a shooting while on the job, police records show.Besides the shooting that injured Batista, Indianapolis has seen at least three other instances where a rideshare driver was shot at and survived since 2018, according to police and media reports.Most recently, a rideshare driver on the west side of the city was stabbed near the intersection of West 10th Street and North Whitcomb Avenue. Police are searching for three suspects after they stole the driver’s vehicle Monday and it was found on the other side of the city, according to IMPD.Law enforcement in Indianapolis does not track data on shootings or other incidents specifically involving rideshare drivers. Neither do police departments in nearby cities, including Louisville, Chicago and Milwaukee.Every two years, Uber releases a nationwide safety report. Its most recent report states there were nine physical-assault fatalities involving a person on an Uber trip in 2019, and 11 of those fatalities in 2020.Lyft released its own safety report in 2021. It listed three fatal-physical assaults involving a person using Lyft in 2017 and 2018 each, and four of those fatalities in 2019.
“I considered it protection. They considered it a weapon,” said Smith. “No mace, no stun gun, no weapons at all, according to the email they sent me.”
Smith said, as a former school bus driver, she drove for Lyft during the summer months over the last 4 years. But after recently leaving the job in Baltimore County, driving for the rideshare company became a fulltime job 6 months ago.
In part due to recent reports of Baltimore Police investigating an uptick in carjackings and robberies targeting drivers and passengers using rideshare apps, Smith said she wanted protection and unknowingly violated the company’s weapons policy.