While your chances of being car jacked are slim, that’s not much comfort if it happens to you. Here at RSG, we know that theft, car accidents, and other car-related incidents can happen to rideshare drivers more often than the average driver simply because of our exposure to people at all hours of the day and night.
Below, senior RSG contributor Paula Gibbins shares the latest news on a spate of carjackings, specifically in Chicago but also worldwide, plus the best carjacking prevention tips to help keep you safe while on the road.
As a rideshare driver, being carjacked is a fear of mine, especially as a female driver. But no driver is immune to this possibility. Recently, a driver in Chicago reached out to us about a rash of carjackings in the city. I looked into carjackings around the nation and world, plus share below how Uber and Lyft can better support drivers.
Is Carjacking on the Rise?
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, carjacking is defined as “stealing a car by force.” Carjacking doesn’t always involve a weapon, although it can, and is generally seen as a crime of opportunity.
It also seems that carjacking may be on the rise. According to ABC7 Chicago, carjacking in Chicago is up 134% over last year, and according to ABC, Minneapolis has reported carjackings are up 537%, with increases of 126% in New Orleans, and 38% in Oakland.
Carjacking is a possibility no matter which city you drive in. There are several reasons why this could be happening, mostly COVID-related: more mask-wearing, people are out of work and school and have more free time, and so on.
It seems the majority of current and recent carjackings are taking place on the South Side of Chicago. South Side has a reputation for having higher crime rates than other parts of the city.
In 2020, more than 1,400 carjackings have taken place in the city of Chicago. According to CWB Chicago, this is a 125% increase when compared to 2019.
A Chicago Lyft driver reported in November that he’d been a victim of a carjacking on the South Side. The carjackers confirmed the name on the account for the ordered ride, put a gun to the driver’s head, and told him to get out of the car and hand over his wallet and phone.
A similar instance happened in November to a female Uber driver. The passenger confirmed the name on the account, got into the backseat, and the driver started the trip as usual. She reported that the passenger then pulled a gun on her and threatened her.
She was able to pull over and get out of the vehicle under the pretense that she couldn’t find her keyless car fob to hand over to the carjacker. Once she was out of the vehicle, the carjacker took control of the vehicle and drove off.
These are just two examples of numerous reportings of carjackings of Uber and Lyft drivers’ vehicles.
In the last week of December, Chicago police were said to have issued a warning to Uber and Lyft drivers. The warning was about the carjackings mainly taking place on the South Side.
To add insult to injury, one carjacking victim in Chicago found his vehicle wrecked and was told he had to pay the $2,500 deductible for Lyft’s insurance policy. After the news channel reached out to Lyft about this driver’s case, his deductible was waived.
He’d also been mailed four red light tickets during the time the carjackers were using his vehicle. Luckily, the city of Chicago agreed to waive those tickets.
In August of 2020, a carjacking was caught on film in broad daylight.
— Jamie S Kennedy (@Jamie_S_Kennedy) September 1, 2020
The passengers asked the driver to put something in his trunk for them. While he was distracted, they hopped in the car and took off.
In February in southwest Atlanta, an Uber driver was choked and dragged out of her vehicle for refusing to give the carjackers her phone and cash.
Two teenagers carjacked multiple Uber and Lyft drivers in Hampton, Virginia in October of 2020. They forcibly took over the vehicles at gunpoint. The incidents happened about one week apart from each other.
An Uber driver in the Bronx was carjacked while waiting for a passenger in November 2020. The car thief claimed to have a firearm that was covered in a dark bag and pressed it against the victim’s chest while pulling him from the vehicle.
This instance is not as recent as the others, but it shows that carjacking isn’t anything new. In the spring of 2018, a Lyft driver was carjacked in Los Angeles. It’s said that the carjacker assaulted the Lyft driver and dragged him from the vehicle.
In Australia, three teens carjacked an Uber driver’s vehicle in December 2020.
The teenagers then took a joyride with their newly stolen vehicle, causing several accidents.
Carjacking Prevention Tips for Uber and Lyft Drivers
Everything in this section is a suggestion or guideline and is not guaranteed to keep you safe while driving for Uber or Lyft.
Utilize the in-app emergency features
Both Uber and Lyft have an emergency button within their apps. If possible, utilize that feature to raise the alarm.
Keep a second phone on you
It’s a good idea to have an emergency phone handy for situations like carjackings. If the carjacker only sees the phone you’re using to complete your services, they won’t know that they are letting you out of the vehicle only to immediately call for help.
One of the carjacker victims mentioned above had a second emergency phone on them while others had to walk somewhere else to find help.
Be aware of your surroundings
Your gut is something you should listen to. Not everyone has great instincts, but if something doesn’t feel right, just move on. Cancel the ride and go somewhere where you feel safe.
If you don’t have time to cancel the ride right away, simply remove yourself from the dangerous-feeling location and then cancel once you feel safe.
I’m sure this is especially tricky if you have a gun held to your head. However, staying calm could help you get safely out of your vehicle.
The woman who “couldn’t find” her key fob had it in her pocket the whole time. It was a risky move, but by keeping her head, she was able to convince the carjacker to let her pull over and search for it. And after she pulled over she got out of the vehicle and shouted that he was robbing her.
Keep your doors locked
Many seasoned drivers keep their doors locked until the passenger verifies who they are. This is helpful for many reasons, and not just carjacking.
While some of the examples in this post do show the carjackers were able to verify the information, it may not always be the case. Keep your doors locked until you’re sure the person getting into your vehicle is supposed to be there.
Have a dashcam
There is no guarantee that this will help keep you safe, but if you have a dash camera, especially one that backs up video to the cloud, you could at least help identify your attackers if something like this were to happen to you.
Here’s our list of the best dash cameras for Uber and Lyft drivers.
Keep in mind, some states do not allow this. Be aware of your state’s laws concerning video recording.
Check the photo
Not all passengers have a profile picture attached to their account, but if they do, try to quickly make sure it’s the correct person by comparing the photo to the person claiming to be your passenger. It’s possible the person knows the account person’s name because they stole the phone from your passenger and are using it instead. If the photo doesn’t match, be wary of letting them in your vehicle.
A Note to Uber and Lyft
Drivers’ safety needs to matter. There are so many stopgaps in place for keeping passengers safe, but what about drivers? Is there nothing more you can do than having a driver ask the passenger to confirm the name on the account?
Drivers have to have legitimate profile pictures on their accounts. Passengers should be made to have the same. People aren’t supposed to be allowed to order rides for other people, so this should be a simple thing to implement.
Or if a passenger is allowed to order for someone else, then there should be a way to add separate profiles into the app. This way, the person ordering the ride can choose the profile of the person being picked up so the driver can verify with the picture attached to that profile.
Simply saying that safety is important isn’t enough. In the age of technology and information, you need to do better.
Drivers, what tips do you have for preventing or handling a carjacking situation? Has this ever happened to you?
-Paula @ RSG