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Women who drive for Uber and Lyft share tips for staying safe in gig-economy jobs

Jacob Zinkula   

Women who drive for Uber and Lyft share tips for staying safe in gig-economy jobs
  • Uber and Lyft drivers sometimes feel unsafe during their rides.
  • We spoke with three women drivers about how they try to avoid dangerous situations.

The last time you called for an Uber or Lyft, there's a good chance your driver was a man.

That's because men are more likely to be ride-hailing drivers than women. A recent survey put the share of women Lyft drivers at 23%, a company spokesperson told Business Insider. As of 2019, about 20% of Uber drivers were women — the company didn't provide a more updated figure.

While this disparity likely has several explanations, safety concerns are among the factors that have made some women hesitate before entering the gig economy. In 2019 and 2020, for instance, the most recent years data is available, nearly 4,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported to Uber — the rider was the accused party in 43% of incidents. In 2018 and 2019, Lyft received over 3,000 reports of sexual assault from riders and drivers.

But these concerns haven't stopped all women from using Uber and Lyft to generate income. Business Insider spoke with three women who drive for these companies about their worst experiences — and the steps they've taken to feel safer.

Driving only during the day can help drivers feel safer

Julie, a part-time Uber driver in Cleveland, Ohio, said she hasn't always felt safe during her five years in the gig economy.

She said some of her worst experiences have come during "hospital rides," which some healthcare organizations use to get older and low-income patients to appointments. During one of these rides, Julie said her customer, who appeared to be unwell, rolled down the windows and yelled that he was being kidnapped.

"He kept telling me he killed many people," said Julie, who asked to use a pseudonym and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions. "I reported it to Uber and nothing was done."

On other occasions, she said, customers have threatened her, damaged her vehicle, or encouraged her to speed. She said one person accused her of racism when she refused to transport her newborn baby without a car seat, while another falsely reported that she'd gotten into an accident.

When asked about Uber's safety resources, a company spokesperson said several steps have been taken over the years to improve safety for drivers and riders. This included introducing features like an "emergency button" within the app — which allows users to quickly contact 911 dispatchers — and GPS tracking, which can be shared with friends and family.

"Our commitment to safety is unwavering, and we continue to strive to make the platform safer for all users," the spokesperson said.

In recent years, Uber has launched a "women rider preference" feature that allows women drivers across 30 countries to express a preference for picking up women riders. But this feature is not yet available in the US.

Due to her safety concerns, Julie only drives during the daytime. Additionally, after obtaining a firearms license, she said she now carries a handgun while she drives to help her feel safer. While Uber prohibits drivers from carrying firearms while using the platform, some jurisdictions have laws that supersede this policy, a company spokesperson said. Julie said she has painstakingly reviewed the relevant policies and laws to ensure she is complying.

Despite taking the precautions, Julie said she still feels pressure to accept more rides than she's comfortable with to retain her Uber gold status, which provides her access to certain perks, like lower gas expenses. To retain one's status, a driver needs to complete rides at a certain frequency.

She said she also worries that a false customer complaint could get her kicked off the Uber platform.

"Drivers are left defenseless, worn out, and scared to even follow the law because we are constantly threatened with being deactivated," she said.

Checking a customer's profile and declining rides can reduce risks

Since she began driving roughly five years ago, Sara, a full-time Uber and Lyft driver in Chicago, said driving for both platforms has sometimes made her feel unsafe or uncomfortable. The 64-year-old, who asked to use a pseudonym and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, said these incidents have typically involved intoxicated customers.

On one occasion, she said a group of riders began making fun of her accent, an incident she said was humiliating and that she reported. In another instance, she said a customer asked her if she wanted to have sex — she said they backed off when she firmly declined.

When asked about Lyft's safety resources, a company spokesperson said that Lyft has an around-the-clock safety response team and works with leading national organizations to inform its safety policies. In September, Lyft launched a "women connect" feature in 55 US cities that increases women drivers' odds of being matched with women riders.

"Safety is fundamental to Lyft," the spokesperson said. "Since day one, we have worked to design policies and features that protect both drivers and riders."

In response to her safety concerns, Sara said she doesn't drive at night, tries to stay close to home, and avoids speaking with customers about politics or other controversial topics.

Additionally, she said she always checks the customer's rating and pickup area. If she has a bad feeling about a ride, she cancels it. She recalled one past ride that came up on her Lyft app: a two-hour trip to Indiana for a passenger who had zero rides, no rating, and no picture.

"When someone uses a nickname like 'My King,' or an initial like 'J' with no picture, it is a red flag for me," she said. "The risk surpasses the compensation for the ride, and I will not take it."

Avoiding certain conversations can reduce the chances of conflict

Over the years, Yvonne, a part-time Uber and Lyft driver in Tampa, Florida, said she's had very few trips that made her feel unsafe over her roughly seven years as a driver. But one particularly negative incident stands out.

Yvonne, who asked that her last name not be included for fear of professional repercussions, said a drunk customer propositioned her for sex and began hugging her until she was able to stop them. She said she probably should have reported this incident to the police but didn't.

Yvonne said the best way to reduce safety concerns is to know when to talk — and when not to.

"When you have one of those passengers, sometimes it is saying nothing at all," she said. "For others, it is basically agreeing with them, even if you don't agree, or apologizing that they are having a bad day. It's more about being a people person and having the correct interpersonal skills to de-escalate a situation."

Are you a gig worker willing to share your story about pay and safety? If so, reach out to this reporter at

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