A series of alleged attacks on Uber passengers in South Africa has forced the company to introduce an SOS button in its vehicles. Back in July, a female passenger was assaulted by an Uber driver in Johannesburg. According to reports, the woman was allegedly robbed, sexually assaulted, strangled and thrown in the trunk of the car.
Last week, two women on a trip from Sandton to Pimville in Johannesburg experienced alife-threatening ordeal in the hands of an Uber driver who physically assaulted, and threatened to kill them. These incidents have resulted in a widespread concern over the safety of Uber services in South Africa, and has led the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) to express its concerns, “Several cases against Uber drivers [that] entail kidnapping, robbery, and sexual assault have been reported to the South African Police Service. We call on all women to be vigilant when choosing to utilize this service.” ANCWL said in a statement.
Samantha Allenberg, the spokesperson for Uber Africa told The Washington Post that accused drivers are immediately restricted from using the company’s app and that violent or aggressive behaviour is completely unacceptable. “If there is any allegation of wrongdoing by a driver, they are immediately prevented from accessing the app until an investigation can be concluded,” she said.
In reaction to these events and the public’s growing concern over the service’s safety, Uber is leveraging technology to improve the safety of its services in South Africa. Last week, the company announced several improved safety features to the rider and driver app. Now when a driver accepts a request, the driver’s name, photo, license plate number and vehicle colour will be seen by the rider. All rides will also be tracked using GPS, and riders can share their ETA allowing loved ones to see their trip in real time.
Uber is also launching the trial of an in-vehicle SOS button in Johannesburg. The buttons will only be installed in select partner vehicles during the trial period, and linked to a central security system monitored by Uber’s security team. “This update will allow driver-partners to connect to a broad base of emergency services and receive advice in a critical situation,” the statement read.
A similar safety feature has previously been launched in India after the sexual assault of a female passenger by an Uber driver led to a government ban on the service. The San-Francisco based company has said that if the feature proves useful in Johannesburg, it will be introduced in other cities across Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to WP, South Africa is not the only market where passenger safety, particularly women’s safety has become an issue for the company. There have been reports of sexual assaults by Uber drivers in major markets like the United States, Canada, and Britain.