Is ridesharing too risky? How to stay safe with Uber and Lyft

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Ridesharing is using an online platform to connect passengers with drivers who use their privately owned vehicles to facilitate transportation needs.

Safety has been a central theme surrounding rideshare services in recent months. Ridesharing services are a very convenient and popular mode of transportation; they often cost less and are quicker to arrive than a traditional taxi cab.

The popular ridesharing companies have safety guidelines in place for both riders and drivers, but our expert tips will help get you to your destination smoothly.

Is ridesharing safe?

Tens of millions of trips worldwide are made by Uber and Lyft drivers each day, the vast majority of which are completed safely. But safety is still a main concern for both riders and drivers, and each company is constantly adding new safety features to their apps.

According to an Uber safety report, in 2018 there were 58 fatalities, 3,045 sexual assaults and nine fatal physical assaults reported out of 1.3 billion total rides in the United States. As a result, safety features are a priority.

Lyft introduced more than 15 new safety features in 2019 alone. Most recently, Uber introduced a PIN verification system to help prevent riders from getting in the wrong car. Riders can also call emergency services through the Uber app, and Uber is planning to start recording audio on rides as an additional safety feature.

Risks of ridesharing

There are risks associated with any form of vehicle transportation, including taking a taxi or driving yourself. But some risks are specific to ridesharing, and both riders and drivers should be aware of them. Here’s what to look for.

Riders

  • Driver impersonation: Riders who aren’t careful can mistakenly get in the car with someone who isn’t their driver. In 2019, University South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was murdered by someone pretending to be her Uber driver.
  • Inconsistent background checks: While taxi drivers are required to submit fingerprints for an FBI background check, Uber and Lyft’s processes are less regulated and, some would argue, not as thorough.
  • Accidents: Research shows that ridesharing could have caused a two to three percent increase in fatal car accidents.
  • Low-rated drivers: Ridesharing platforms usually kick drivers off if their rating is too low, but this takes time and requires the driver to consistently receive low scores. It’s possible to get a driver with low ratings that aren’t low enough to be barred from picking up passengers.

Drivers

  • Road safety: Car crashes are the sixth most common cause of death in the United States, and driving for multiple hours each day only increases your exposure to this risk.
  • Unpredictable passengers: You never know who you’re picking up, especially when driving late at night when passengers are more likely to be intoxicated. Getting stuck with an aggressive passenger could lead to an unwanted physical altercation.
  • Low-rated passengers: Although Uber recently started banning riders with low ratings, there’s no word on whether the cutoff is as strict as it is for drivers. Many drivers feel pressured to pick up even the lowest-rated passengers in order to not miss out on potential income.
  • Insurance gaps: As a rideshare driver, your personal auto insurance won’t cover you if you’re in an accident while using your vehicle for commercial purposes, and the standard insurance provided by Uber and Lyft only covers certain parts of your shift. You could find yourself without any insurance coverage if you get in an accident at certain times.

Ridesharing safety tips

Despite the safety risks of ridesharing, millions of passengers use apps like Uber and Lyft every day without experiencing any issues. Here are some tips to minimize your risk while using ridesharing apps.

Riders

  • Wait inside: Stay indoors while requesting your ride through the app.
  • Check the license plate: Make sure the license plate of the car you get into matches what is shown in the app.
  • Ask for verification: Ask your driver for the name of the person they’re picking up, and/or use a PIN verification system.
  • Wear a seatbelt: Sit in the backseat of the car, and make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened.
  • Share your plans: Let family or friends know you’re planning to take an Uber or Lyft and share your trip details and ETA with them through the app.
  • Inform your driver: Tell your driver you’re sharing the trip details with someone; criminals are less likely to act if they know there’s a high likelihood of getting caught.
  • Plan for the worst: Come up with a plan – and a safe word – for yourself and your family members to quickly communicate and remove yourselves from any potentially unsafe situation.
  • Trust your instinct: If you feel unsafe for any reason, end the ride.

Drivers

  • Plan ahead: Prepare for different potential passenger scenarios by writing down a plan for how you will handle each one.
  • Screen passengers: Uber and Lyft allow you to see passenger ratings before deciding whether or not to accept a fare. Don’t be afraid to pass if the requesting rider’s rating is too low; many rideshare drivers suggest not taking passengers with a rating lower than 4.6.
  • Provide ratings: If you encounter a passenger who acts poorly or makes you uncomfortable, give them a low rating to protect other drivers and reach out to the rideshare company to let them know.
  • Listen to your gut: If a passenger is making you feel unsafe, pull over in a safe, populated location and end the ride.
  • Evaluate behavior: Pay attention to how your passengers act. This can help you get out of a dangerous situation.

Rideshare insurance

You’re hopefully familiar with the car insurance policy you purchased for your personal use as a driver. But once you start driving for Uber or Lyft, this policy no longer covers you. Driving for a ridesharing app falls under the “commercial use” category, and attempting to file a claim for an accident that occurred under this type of use can result in your policy being canceled. This is where rideshare insurance comes into play.

Rideshare insurance providers categorize your time as a driver into three phases:

  • Phase 1: Waiting for your next fare; the app is turned on, but you are not actively on a trip.
  • Phase 2: Driving to pick up a passenger and waiting for them to arrive.
  • Phase 3: Driving with your passenger.

Any activity outside of these phases, or when the app is turned off, is considered personal use and is not covered by rideshare insurance.

Uber and Lyft each provide rideshare insurance for their drivers once they sign up and are approved. The problem is that this insurance is limited. The deductibles are $1,000 for Uber and $2,500 for Lyft, and you may not even be covered for accidents that occur during Phase 1, leaving you effectively uninsured in between passengers.

The best way to ensure that you’re completely covered as an Uber or Lyft driver is to purchase an additional rideshare insurance policy. These policies are available through many major auto insurers such as Geico and Allstate. You might even be able to purchase one through your current car insurance provider and save by bundling policies. Typically, rideshare insurance policies are much cheaper than standard auto insurance policies, although the price can vary depending on your age, driving history and other factors.

Rideshare insurance is designed to fill the gaps between the ridesharing company’s policy and your personal insurance policy. It will ensure that you’re covered for the entirety of your rideshare shift, even when not on an active trip. Rideshare insurance policies can also reduce or eliminate your deductible by covering the difference between policies.

Bottom line

It’s good to be aware of the safety risks associated with ridesharing as both a rider and a driver. But millions of rides are completed without incident every day, and ridesharing can be a safe transportation alternative as long as a few simple precautions are taken. If you’re considering driving for Uber or Lyft, or if you’re already accepting fares through the app, the best way to protect yourself is by purchasing your own supplemental rideshare insurance policy.

And no matter what, remember the golden rule of ridesharing: always trust your gut. If a situation makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, end the ride and call someone to help you reach safety.