- Uber users in the U.S. will be able to dial 911 directly through the company’s app under a new feature rolled out Tuesday, The Verge reported. A similar feature for drivers will be released in the coming months.
- In some markets, the app will automatically send the user’s location to emergency responders. For all callers, Uber will send a followup message to ensure the rider’s safety.
- The new feature was one of several teased by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a blog post last month focused on safety.
In what continues to be a turbulent time for Uber, the 911 assistance is a tangible step toward improving the company’s safety record. London announced in February it would not renew the company’s license over safety concerns (after an appeal, Uber is still allowed to operate), and there have ben talks of a class action lawsuit by women who were assaulted or kidnapped by Uber drivers, among other incidents. Khosrowshahi sought to quell some of the concerns, announcing plans to better screen drivers and adding new safety features to the app, including keeping pick-up and drop-off locations off of its logs.
Still, the 911 assistance is just a first step, and is slow to roll out in the U.S. after having been available in India for years. Critics have called for a panic button for a long time (a Change.org petition started eight months ago has more than 11,000 signatures). Uber also plans to do annual background checks on drivers, rather than simply following local rules on requirements, and plans to invest in technology that would automatically alert the company to new offenses on employees’ records, but those have yet to be officially announced. Riders may still be looking for more than just an automatic dialing feature, so the company’s troubles are not behind it yet.
The location sharing is an innovative feature meant to improve emergency response, which can often struggle with locating distress callers. That feature is only being tested in a handful of markets, but if successful could be spread across the country by the summer. The company will also work with the National Emergency Number Association to help improve communications between 911 call centers, and create a searchable database to help emergency dispatchers better connect callers to the correct center, avoiding mis-routing calls. Those initiatives could have a longer shelf life, helping emergency responders outside of the bounds of Uber’s ridership.