The dangers of drunk driving are well known. But how safe is being driven by an Uber or a Lyft driver when you are too inebriated to get behind the wheel?
Ask a San Diego woman who boarded the back seat of an Uber vehicle to go home. She was so drunk that she asked the driver to pull over so she could throw up. Then, she passed out – only to reawaken a block from her residence with the Uber driver on top of her, committing rape.
The sex victim managed to escape and dial 911. Police apprehended 54-year-old John David Sanchez. An official search of his computer revealed videos dating back at least five years that showed Sanchez raping women and assaulting young teenagers.
In November 2017, Sanchez was sentenced to 80 years in prison for the rape of his San Diego passenger and 33 other counts against him, including sexually assaulting at least nine other women and children. Sanchez drugged many of his victims.
In the past five years, over 100 Uber drivers have been charged with sexual assault or abuse by passengers. The drivers have been arrested, are at large and wanted by the police or have been named as defendants in civil suits filed after the incidents.
At least 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape. Dozens of criminal and civil cases are pending. These numbers were compiled from reviewing police reports, federal court records, and county court databases because, at the time, Uber didn’t provide this information.
Uber did reveal that more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported in the U.S. related to ride-sharing trips in 2018. As of December 2019, Uber’s corporate safety report mentioned almost 6,000 reports of sexual assault in the previous two years.
In another similar case, a woman from Miami dropped off her kids with their grandmother before going to a bar with a friend. She took an Uber home and, like the San Diego fare, passed out on the way back.
This time, however, the victim woke up the next morning in her bedroom with her pants and underwear on the floor. Allegedly, the Uber driver carried the unconscious woman into her apartment, threw her onto her bed, and sexually assaulted her.
The Miami resident, who joined a proposed class-action lawsuit against Uber as a plaintiff, cautioned:
“You are pretty much hitchhiking with strangers.”
The police said the Uber driver admitted he knew the victim had been drinking and was “wrong for what he did.” He pleaded not guilty for sexual battery.
In a third case, a woman in Long Beach, California, reported she fell asleep while drunk in the back of an Uber in 2016. She, too, woke up to find the 47-year-old driver sexually assaulting her. The driver was located the following day with her phone and subsequently arrested.
The Uber employee claimed the sex was consensual and the district attorney dropped the criminal case against him. The victim is suing Uber over the matter and for advertising its ride-sharing services as “safe.” She explained her legal pursuit for justice:
“You don’t think it will happen to you. I still feel ashamed…that’s why I’m here. I want a voice. [I’m] tired of being quiet.”
Uber is not alone in lax driver screening during the hiring process.
Neither Uber nor its rival service Lyft requires fingerprint submissions or criminal background checks on their drivers. Uber employs drivers without meeting them in person before entrusting the safety of the company’s passengers with them.
In the wake of complaints and lawsuits, Uber and Lyft are undertaking increased safety systems. Uber is rolling out a “verify your ride” feature where riders receive a unique four-digit PIN to give to drivers. The driver can start a trip only after the correct PIN has been entered into his app.
Speaking for Uber, Kayla Whaling explained how the new precautionary measure works:
“This added layer of verification can help ensure riders get in the right car and drivers are picking up the correct rider.”
Uber claims that incidents of sexual assault are rare among the company’s average of more than 3 million trips each day. According to Uber, drivers were the victims in nearly half (42 percent) of sexual assault cases.
Michael Bomberger, a lawyer representing 19 women suing Lyft, stated:
“Drivers are assaulted as much as the passengers are.”
While women who pass out drunk during a trip are likely targets for rape, male drivers are almost equally at risk for non-consensual touching of a sexual body part.