How to Handle a Passenger Who Scares You

Harry here.  Driver safety is a real issue, especially for those of us who drive late at night.  And even though the odds of something happening are low, since Uber does millions of trips a day, it’s always best to be prepared.  Today, RSG contributor Will Preston recounts a recent ‘scary’ experience and what he could have done to handle it better.

Have you ever wondered what you would do, or what you should do, if a passenger sets off your Spidey sense? I had a situation last weekend that put me in this position. At the time I thought I handled it all right, but now I know I could’ve handled better. Worse, I almost handled it really poorly – based on what the sheriff’s department said when I spoke to them.

After hundreds of rides, you're bound to encounter a passenger who scares you. But how do you handle that type of pax? The do's and don't's here -

The Story

The ride started with three guys standing in front of a local strip club. Two of them got in my backseat and proceeded to argue to try to convince the third person to get in the vehicle with us. He was having none of it, so we pulled off.

The first thing I heard was, “I think this is his first time doing shrooms.” Perhaps I should’ve ended the ride right there, but I did not. They seemed coherent and not dangerous, so I continued driving. What I did do was listen very closely to what they were saying.

We’ll call the rider on my side of the vehicle Mark, and the other guy Steve. It became apparent that they met that day and Steve was the dealer from whom Mark had purchased the shrooms. It was also apparent that Steve was planning on selling Mark some additional drugs that evening. The deal was not going to go down in my car, because Mark did not have any additional money.

Steve was friendly until he found out that Mark had hit his daily maximum on – get this – his corporate debit card from his new job. He had already given $300 to Steve for the shrooms and had spent another $300 at the strip club. Suddenly Steve wasn’t talking anymore.

I didn’t hear much else until we got to Mark’s residence.  Just before pulling up to his house, I heard Steve say “want a blast?” I didn’t know what that meant, but I soon found out. As soon as we pulled up to Mark’s residence, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone snorting something. I turned around to see Steve snorting coke off of his smart phone screen! And now my Spidey sense finally went off.

Although Mark asked me to take Steve to Steve’s residence, I told them that this was the end of the ride. I told Steve I wasn’t going to take him anywhere. He didn’t understand. Eventually he got out of my car, and I got out of there as quickly as possible.

The next day I spoke to a San Diego County Sheriff and asked him what he thought I should have done in this scenario. I learned several things in that conversation that I thought I’d share with you.

Be Prepared

There are a number of potential things that can happen in your car while rideshare driving that may scare you.  I have just around 2,000 drives and encountered four ‘scary’ situations, but remember that I drive the late shift on Friday and Saturday nights. Remember I’m also the guy that had over 10 cleaning fees last year, so maybe I just have bad luck.  It has never happened to me in the middle of the day.  But when it does happen, your adrenaline begins to rush and your body initiates a fight or flight response. Therefore, you need to prepare for this in advance.

Customers may try to do drugs in your car. They also might discuss drug deals in your car. One passenger may be verbally and even physically abusive to another passenger, or verbally and physically abusive to you – even though you’re driving. Usually the latter happens when you won’t do what a drunk or high person wants to do, including a drive-through run, let them carry an open container of alcohol, or bring more people in your car then you have seat belts for. Sadly, this jerk will probably also give you a one star rating.

Related: What you can do to improve your driver ratings.

The sheriff and I discussed a number of options for what to do in this scenario, and some of them are really bad ideas. Oddly enough, the option that he thought was the worst idea was the one that came to my mind when this incident was going down. Most of these options are built around the idea of ending the ride as soon as your Spidey sense goes off. The only questions are when, where and how to end the ride.

When to End the Ride

This is the easiest one to answer. You should end the ride as soon as your Spidey sense goes off. The money isn’t worth it; your safety is the most important thing. In my case, I should’ve ended the ride the second I started hearing about a potential drug deal. That immediately let me know that one guy was at a minimum carrying a significant quantity of drugs.

Continuing the ride past that point put me at additional risks. Remember at the end of the story, they had opened the drugs and poured them onto their smart phone. Imagine what could have happened if I got pulled over for some other reason and the cops found these guys in the back of my car with open drugs. What happens if I get pulled over sometime after this and for whatever reason a drug dog searches my car? There’s a good chance that there is cocaine residue on my backseat! If I had ended the ride as soon as I realized I was dealing with a drug dealer and customer, none of that could happened.

Where to End the Ride

What came to mind while I was driving was maybe I should pull into a police station. In fact, the only reason I didn’t was my adrenaline-filled mind couldn’t remember where the police station was. Although this might be an appropriate response in a different scenario, the sheriff thought it was a really bad idea in this scenario. I knew that Steve was trying to sell drugs to Mark. That makes Steve a drug dealer, and drug dealers often carry weapons.

If he happens to sense that I’m driving towards the police station, next thing you know, I could have a gun to my head. Very bad idea. So my best idea at the time was the worst thing I could think of. Great.

Pulling into a police station might be an appropriate response in a different scenario, but the risk is still there. You never know if the person you are scared of is carrying a weapon, but you’re going to find out if you pull into a police station.

A better idea is to go to any well-lit, populated area. Populated is the key here. Pulling into a well-lit deserted parking lot and ending the ride might have the same effect as the previous idea. I think the best version of this idea is to pull into a gas station. Tell them that you heard a noise and you need to pull into the gas station to check it out. But any well-lit, populated area will do.

The last thing you want to do is what I did – end the ride in a dark, secluded residential street. By ending the ride the way I did where I did, I put myself at risk. If at all possible, end your scary ride in a well-lit populated area.

How to End the Ride

Here’s how not to end a ride like this: simply turn around and tell the passenger the ride is over. Why not, you ask? You’re in a very vulnerable position as a driver facing away from the passenger. Whether they are armed or not, they can do quite a bit of damage to you without you having any sort of ability to defend yourself. If your Spidey sense is going off, do not end the ride this way.

I got my procedure for this situation from watching the Uber Man video on this topic, and I would recommend watching it. My version of the procedure is this: Make an excuse for leaving the vehicle, such as checking a sound you heard or something like that. Grab your phone and any weapons of opportunity that you might have. I’ve practiced this so I can do it in seconds. It’s also why I have a magnetic mount for my phone now instead of the one I used to have that was harder to get out of.

Uber does not allow guns in your vehicle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a really heavy flashlight. I have a reasonably heavy, metal flashlight that is very helpful when looking for addresses at night, and can also double as a weapon.

I also know plenty of drivers who carry mace despite the ambiguity of the rules. But whatever you do, don’t deploy your mace in your vehicle. You won’t be able to drive in it for a really long time, and you may do permanent damage. If you must use mace, use it outside your vehicle, which is another reason to exit your vehicle before forcibly ending a ride.

Once you are outside the vehicle with your phone and weapons in hand, you have a couple of choices. You can simply let the passenger know that you are ending the ride and they should exit the vehicle. If they protest at all, you can also notify them that you have 911 on speed dial and that you have weapons and are prepared to defend yourself. If you have a dash cam, you can also mention they’re on camera.

If you are really scared, exit the vehicle and go inside a business and call 911. Tell the police what’s going on and why you are afraid and that they should come immediately. Stay on the phone with them until they arrive. If you choose this option, it’s best not to be seen doing it by the passenger. If you’re really scared, take your keys and stay in the bathroom.

Now What?

The other thing that the sheriff mentioned was if I wanted to involve law enforcement in a drug situation, I should’ve done it immediately. Drop off the passenger, call 911, and tell them I just dropped off a passenger that was clearly trying to sell drugs to another passenger (or whatever happened that scared you), and give them a description and last known location. For your own safety, do not follow the passenger.  He said that last part multiple times.

You should also notify your rideshare company of everything that happened. Each rideshare company has a specific option for when a passenger makes you feel unsafe. That is the option that you should use. Tell them everything that happened and let them know of any evidence that you have as well – like dash cam footage.

Related: The most epic dash cam review for rideshare drivers ever

Final Thoughts

Buy a dash cam. They are relatively inexpensive and are a good deterrent to the passenger doing something really stupid. Make sure to check out these articles on dash cams. I personally use the Falcon F360. My only complaint about all of the dash cams is that they don’t provide any nighttime illumination. That said, it’s better to have a dash cam than not, so even if you don’t buy the most tricked-out dash cam, you’ll still have some video plus audio on your side. 

Related: 4 reasons why drivers need a dash cam

Have you ever encountered a passenger who scared you, and what did you do about it? Have you thought of ways to protect yourself if a passenger gets out of control?

-Will Preston @ RSG