One evening in February, Helen Kim (name changed for privacy) was catching a flight from LA to Oakland and preparing for a busy week ahead. As an attorney, it was a work trip that she’d made many times before, with the exception that she was unusually exhausted after a long day at work. Upon landing shortly after midnight, she ordered her ride-hail trip.
What happened next was a lesson no attorney gets in law school and changed the way Helen uses ride-hail services.
Rain was coming down hard, and as she stepped out to meet her driver, she noticed that he had a rating of 4.57 out of 5–the lowest she’d seen among any drivers she’d ridden with. But given the late hour, poor weather and her diminishing energy, she set aside her concern.
The driver initially missed her pickup location at the Oakland airport, but she thought, “well, the weather’s really bad and it’s raining hard.” His second try was successful, and after hopping in and confirming her destination, she fastened her seatbelt and zoned out, catching up on the previous night’s Super Bowl results.
It was 20 minutes into her ride when the collision occurred. After being tossed left and right a few times, the airbags deployed. Helen’s phone flew to the front seat, and her shin smacked hard on the console between the two front seats before the car screeched to a stop. Her leg hurt a lot, but fortunately it wasn’t broken.
Shocked and confused, Helen remembers that her driver got out quickly, and asked if she was alright, before going immediately to the driver behind him to debate who was at fault in the crash. Amidst cars streaming by at high speeds in the hard rain, Helen managed to drag herself and her suitcase out of harm’s way to the freeway divider.
Although it took 1.5 hours for the highway patrol to show up, it wasn’t until after the EMT gave Helen an ice pack, and she sat out of the rain in the back of the police car, that she had time to reflect on and ingrain a few key lessons for herself.
These serve as important reminders, not just for lawyers, but for those of us who are ride-hailing customers (over 15 million users and growing in the US alone last year).
Pay close attention to driver scores. Driver ratings exist for a reason: safety. Passengers shouldn’t hesitate to cancel a request based on driver rating. While Helen brushed aside the doubt that arose when she saw a 4.57 rating (the lowest she’d ever encountered), she now immediately cancels rides with any driver who has a rating under 4.7. By some accounts, anything less than 4.6 is a cause for suspension, so riders should pay careful attention to scores.
Always wear your seatbelt in a ride-hail, the way you would in your own car. Although passengers can ride in the back seat without wearing seat belts after a certain age (depending on state law), Helen was glad that she did, for she would have sustained far worse injuries if she had not.
Don’t hesitate to cancel rides. If you’re en route, but notice that your driver’s behavior could potentially place you or others in danger (or is otherwise suspicious), cancel the ride and ask to be dropped off at a safe location where you can initiate another ride.
Be a backseat driver. While being a passenger may seem like the perfect time to catch up on emails and news, remaining present and vigilant is never more important. Our smart phones devour our ever-diminishing attention spans, but are also frequently used to distract and entertain us during inactive periods. Helen acknowledged that she wished she had been more of a backseat driver that evening–observing the driver and road conditions more carefully and urging caution instead of zoning out.
Avoid rides during bad weather. Helen had no choice but to travel when her incident occurred, but she says that for personal trips, she will do her best to avoid travel during bad weather, when road conditions are more perilous and poor driving habits can become exacerbated.
Being driven by strangers is a regular part of the daily commute for millions of people these days. Following Helen’s advice can help, but riders should also never hesitate to call 911 in case of an incident.
If you’re an Android or iOS smartphone user in the US, you can also check out Life360’s Driver Protect, a road safety service which automatically detects serious crashes and dispatches help, no matter which car you’re in.
With nearly 90% of collisions due to human error, it behooves all riders to keep in mind Helen’s experience and lessons. By playing an active role as passengers, we ensure that road safety is everybody’s business and a top priority.