Are Ubers Safer Than Taxis?

where is my uberUber has been the subject of a lot of negative publicity, from disputes over the way drivers are compensated to concerns about screening and safety for passengers and drivers alike.

In 2018, CNN reported 103 accusations of either passenger abuse or sexual assault by Uber drivers. In one case, the police investigation into a passenger’s complaint led to evidence that the Uber driver had assaulted several women and teenagers across a period of at least five years. Another driver, who has been charged with kidnapping and wire fraud, processed a charge of more than $1,000 to the victim’s credit card after allegedly fondling her and then leaving her on the side of the road.  In 2023, a former police officer turned Uber driver was arrested and charged with sexual assault in San Antonio after allegedly assaulting a 45-year-old lady en route home from a bar. These types of reports are alarming for travelers who rely on rideshare to get to where they are going. But, are these headlines something you should truly be alarmed about?

Is it Safer to Take an Uber or a Taxi?

There is no direct answer to this question. According to a report released by Uber in 2019, in 2018, there were reports of 3045 sexual assaults during Uber trips. Because taxicabs are not overseen by one company, there are no nationwide statistics to compare this to. However, statistics on New York vehicles for hire suggest similar rates of rapes reported during cab rides and during Uber rides. Thus, one should take precautions in either situation.

Does an Uber or a Taxi Provide Better Insurance Coverage to Passengers?

Ubers usually provide their passengers with the protection of 1 million in liability insurance coverage as well as 1 million in underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage. Many taxis are self-insured carrying only the minimum liability coverage required by state law.

Thus, from an insurance coverage perspective, Uber provides more auto insurance coverage than taxicabs typically provide. The same is true for Lyft. However, this is irrelevant if you cannot trust the driver you are riding with not to attack you.

Comparison of Sexual Assaults by Uber and Cab Drivers

A headline announcing more than 100 sexual assaults by Uber drivers is enough to give anyone pause. But, that figure in isolation doesn’t say much about the relative safety of Uber, Lyft, and others compared with other modes of transportation—in particular, taxicabs.

A report released by Uber in 2019 shows that the numbers are far more staggering than 100.  According to the report, there were 3045 sexual assaults reported during Uber trips in 2018. Of those, 235 of them were raped. The remainders were “varying levels of sexual assault” which, according to Uber they break down into 21 different categories.

According to Uber, the company had about 3 million drivers in the U.S. Which is far more than the number of licensed taxi drivers across the United States.  But, those taxi drivers are licensed by different governmental entities and work through different companies. So, there is no comparable national data readily available to determine whether Uber and Lyft are more dangerous than traditional taxicabs.

In 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported a rise in rape reports by New York City cab drivers with there being 15 reported that year in taxis, livery cabs, or for-hire vehicles. There were 143,674 licensed “for-hire” vehicles in New York City including medallion cabs, livery vehicles, shuttle vans, and other for-hire vehicles.  Additionally, many cabs are owned by a company and involve multiple drivers. Thus, there are roughly 50,000 drivers for the 13,000 cabs bring the number of drivers to over 180,674.

While it is not safe to assume New York directly represents “for-hire” drivers across the entire United States, a rough comparison of New York licensed “for-hire” vehicles rape claims in 2015 to recent Uber rape claims suggests that licensed “for-hire” driver rape claims in 2015 arose against 1 for every 12,044 New York “for-hire” drivers. Uber driver rape claims in 2018 arose at a rate of 1 for every 12,766 drivers. If you look at total sexual assault claims reported for Uber drivers, however, that rate jumps to 1 for every 985 drivers in 2018. There are no statistics from non-rape sexual assault complaints available to compare this to “New York “for-hire” drivers. Please also keep in mind that this is a rough comparison of the number of rapes/assaults to the number of total drivers, not the number of rides. It also does not take into account that a single driver could be responsible for more than one attack–whether it’s a cab driver or an Uber.

In January of 2015, The Cato Institute analyzed the relative safety of rideshare services and taxi cab services and issued a Policy Analysis paper. The Institute concluded that the driver screening conducted by rideshare companies, while imperfect, was superior to that required for taxicab licensing in many jurisdictions. This conclusion relies on little nuances such as Uber not allowing drivers to have certain crimes on their record in the past 7 years whereas some cities have a restriction of only 5 years for cab drivers and others may restrict different crimes than Uber. The Institute report concluded that “there is little evidence that the sharing economy services are more dangerous than traditional taxis.”   But one must take that with a grain of salt since in January 2015, there was even less data to compare than now.

Rideshare Safety Tips

Getting into a car with a stranger will never be 100% risk-free regardless of whether its a taxi or rideshare. If you choose to use rideshare services, it’s important to take reasonable precautions—just as you would if you were getting into a taxi or car service vehicle.  So here are some tips to help.

First, make sure the vehicle you’re getting into is actually the rideshare vehicle you summoned. Both Uber and Lyft provide information through the app to help you identify your car and driver.  Unfortunately, many people simply assume the car that stops is the right one, and don’t stop to check the driver’s photo, make sure the vehicle matches, or check the license plates. Don’t let being in a rush or feeling silly stop you from making use of these important security features.

Once you’ve determined that the vehicle is the right one:

  • Ride in the back seat. Though there’s no rule precluding a passenger from sitting in front, putting a little buffer between the driver and passenger makes the trip safer for both.
  • Trust your instincts. If you are uneasy about the driver or the condition of the vehicle, don’t get in. You are always free to cancel your ride.
  • Travel with a friend when possible. If you can share an Uber, you and your friend will both be safer.
  • Think twice about using rideshare services when you’re impaired. Although Uber and Lyft are often billed as a great way to avoid driving under the influence, many of the reported assaults by rideshare drivers occurred when the passenger passed out in the car. If you’re not alert and able to care for yourself, a ride from a trusted friend or family member who is sober is a safer alternative.
  • Use Uber’s “Share My Trip” feature to let a friend or family member view your route. In the unlikely event that the driver veers off course or makes an unexpected stop, someone will know about it immediately.

Whichever you chose–a taxi, Uber, or Lyft–use common sense and do not get in a vehicle with someone that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If you or someone you love is injured while riding in rideshare, call us to discuss filing a Lyft accident claim or an Uber accident claim today.