We all have weird stories when it comes to passengers: the pukers, the over-sharers, the longest rides, biggest tips, etc. Some of these stories are funny, some are weird, but some are downright scary. Today, RSG contributor Will Preston shares a scary situation that happened to him recently and how Uber handled it. What would you have done in this situation?
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You’re about to hear a story whose climax ends with an Uber passenger threatening my life. I’ve given over 3,000 rides via Uber and Lyft, and nothing close to this has ever happened to me. As I mentioned in a few other articles, my car has apparently been puked in more often than any other Uber driver I’ve ever met, and I’ve had to kick out a few passengers who set off my “Spidey sense.” But what happened on this Friday night was on a whole other level.
It Was a Regular Bar Night
It was 1:00 a.m. on a Friday, and I did what I always do, which is work my way North toward Encinitas for the bar closing surge. I usually get there around 12:30 or 1:00 a.m., and this night was no different. I positioned myself near my favorite pickup spot and waited for a ride. Then they got in.
It was four passengers: two females and two males. One of the females sat in the front seat and the two males flanked the other female in the backseat. As usual at this time of night and when picking up from this bar, they were clearly very intoxicated. As usual, I let them know about barf bags and started my drive to their location, which was about 20 minutes away in La Jolla.
It’s really hard to describe how annoying these people were. Yes, they were loud and boisterous, but it was more than that.
To start with, the lady in the front seat – the actual Uber account holder that ordered the ride – didn’t seem to understand that she shouldn’t be distracting the driver. She couldn’t figure out the auxiliary cord to charge her phone and began distracting me as I was driving. After I finally arrived at a stoplight, I was able to determine she had the wrong cord, and I helped her plug in the correct one. But then she couldn’t figure out how to get the music to play, so she continued to ask for help – even though I was clearly on the freeway at this point.
The distracting behavior continued, as she began to tell me how “cool” I was compared to other drivers. She also started reaching out and touching my arm or my shoulder like I was her friend, and calling me “baby.” (We’re going to call this lady “baby baby” for the rest of the article.) Then “baby baby” would turn around and talk to the people in the backseat about how cool I was while she placed her right hand on my shoulder.
The Ride Gets More Dangerous
“Baby baby” was annoying the *%$#@ out of me and distracting me quite a bit from what should have been a relatively simple task of driving on an otherwise empty freeway. I should have told her to immediately stop distracting me and touching me, and I should have ended the ride if she didn’t stop.
But of course I thought about the rating these people would give me, and I decided that I could live with the distraction. It’s not like she was hurting me or anything. So I kept driving.
As I was being told that I’m the “coolest driver ever” and that other Uber drivers are “so uptight”, the female in the middle of the backseat decided that her lighter was fascinating. Even more fascinating when she clicked it caused a flame to come out.
No, she wasn’t smoking in my car. But she was creating an open flame in my car. She was beyond drunk.
Every time she flicked her lighter, I told her to stop. She either ignored me or was so drunk she didn’t understand me, so I asked “baby baby” to make her friend stop or the ride would be over. Eventually, “lighter flicker” stops.
At this point, I was doubly distracted because I have “baby baby” in the front seat and “lighter flicker” in the backseat who I was watching closely to see if she would do it again. I told myself that if she did it again, the ride would be over.
Back Seat Driver Chimes In
Right about this time, I began approaching the exit that the GPS told me to take. I’m about three quarters of a mile from the exit when the passenger seated directly behind me proceeds to start yelling at me.
Note: This is one of those situations where the GPS recommended a longer – but faster – route than this person apparently takes when he goes from Encinitas to La Jolla. We have therefore passed “his exit” and he thinks that I’m somehow taking them for a ride.
To hear him yell, you would think that I was about to accidentally cross the Mexican border. (Believe it or not, It happens down here.) He’s repeatedly yelling “You missed the exit! You missed the exit!” He then starts commanding that I better take the next exit, which was the one I was going to take anyway. He’s commanding it, and he’s yelling it.
At this point, I’d had it.
I don’t remember my exact words, but I believe they were something along the lines of “you need to back the *%[email protected]#* off.” It was now a serious safety issue and my adrenaline took over and those of the words that came out. I’m not proud of that moment, as one should never yell and/or curse at a passenger or customer. But these people pushed me to that point.
“Baby baby” in the front seat told him “yeah man, don’t yell at our cool Uber driver.” He stopped yelling and just started muttering under his breath. I was only a mile or so from their destination, so I kept driving. But I am now visibly upset and “baby baby” is trying to console me. More arm stroking, of course.
We finally get to the destination, but “baby baby” wouldn’t get out of the car immediately. She kept promising me a “big tip” but I just told her to get out of the vehicle.
This is when it happened. Let me set the stage first. In a previous article, I wrote about what to do when a passenger scares you. I mentioned that the worst thing you want to do is to confront them while you’re seated facing the other direction. You’re physically vulnerable at that point and there is nowhere to go. It’s impossible to defend yourself when your arms are on one side of your body and the attacker is on the other side. That is why I follow UberMan’s recommendation that when I do have to kick a passenger out, I get out of the vehicle first, taking my phone and any “weapons of opportunity” that I have with me. I face the passenger and tell them the ride’s over.
But that didn’t happen in this case, because I thought the ride was over. I thought the passengers were out of my car, but “baby baby” was still in the front passenger seat. I was focusing on trying to get her out of my car as well. That’s when I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a voice in my ear.
The passenger that I had “shut down” earlier was still upset about that incident. He said, “You know, I’m trying to be a better person. But if you had said that to me six months ago, I would’ve beat your $%^ and handed you over to my cartel friends and you would be dead right now.”
I was completely stuck. I couldn’t gun the engine and drive away because I had a passenger in the front passenger seat with one leg in the vehicle and one leg out of the vehicle. If this guy decided to actually hurt me I would have had no way to defend myself. It was nothing short of terrifying.
Just short of yelling, I told “baby baby” to get out of the car now, while she keeps insisting she’s going to leave me a “200% tip” (which is impossible to do in the Uber app). She finally gets out and, while I have to make a U-turn and drive past the group again, nothing further happens.
Even though it was still surging, I couldn’t shake the feeling the passengers had left with me. I went home and contacted Uber.
What Happened When I Contacted Uber
I decided to send a message to Uber and select “my rider made me feel unsafe.” I gave an abbreviated version of the above story and sent it off. Before I went to sleep that night I had a response from Uber that said they would launch an internal investigation and get back to me. (For those of you used to canned responses from Uber, this was one I had never seen before.)
Here’s how to do that in the Uber passenger app. Select the ride in question, then click Help. Select Issue with a rider, followed by My rider made me feel unsafe. You will be given a screen where you can say what happened. You can also just contact Uber’s critical safety line by dialing 800-353-8237 or 800-353-UBER.
In Lyft, you click Help, and then select Safety Concern twice, after which you will be given a number to have them contact you immediately. That’s nice!
Related: How to Contact Uber
A few days later I was contacted by Erica from Uber support. She said she would like to speak to me on the phone. That’s also never happened before.
Once we were talking on the phone, she asked me to tell her the entire story of what happened and I did. She was very attentive to what I was saying and responded like any human being would respond to such crazy statements. I remember her exclamations when I got to the actual threat. I truly felt she cared.
She listened to the entire story and then told me that the first thing she wanted me to know is that none of this was acceptable. A passenger distracting me while driving, a passenger touching me, a passenger creating an open flame in my car, and a passenger threatening my life. She listed each offense and said that none of them were acceptable behavior for an Uber passenger and were clear violations of the community guidelines. I remember laughing out loud and saying “No kidding.”
She told me that the passenger had been suspended and that they would continue the investigation to determine whether or not she should receive further action. As far as I can tell, the only further action would be for her to be permanently banned from Uber. Sadly, there’s no way to identify the person who actually threatened me and and his Uber account is probably just fine. This lady’s Lyft account is probably just fine as well. So even though Uber responded as best as they could, it’s still a little frustrating.
She reiterated that I should never be made to feel like this and that if it was totally OK to end the ride in such a situation. She mentioned that if I ever run into any of these passengers again, it was totally OK to cancel their ride.
What Could I Have Done Differently?
I’m on record that I think picking up drunk passengers is part of the gig. Honestly, if I didn’t pick up drunk passengers I think I would lose half my business. Half the people I pick up are drunk and the other half are on their way to get drunk. (I drive on Friday and Saturday nights.) But there are drunks and then there are jerks. These people were jerks.
While I tried my best to help you understand what it was like to be in that car, please trust me when I say they were 10 times more annoying and distracting than I am able to describe in words. I should’ve ended the ride when I realized that the person in the front seat didn’t seem to understand that she shouldn’t verbally and physically distract the driver. I should’ve ended the ride when a passenger in the middle seat thought it was perfectly acceptable to create an open flame inside my car.
There were several other little things that triggered me along the way that should’ve also caused me to end the ride. If I had ended the ride sooner I never would’ve had the altercation that caused the offense to give the person a reason to threaten my life. (I am not blaming the victim here. What he did was not an appropriate response to what I said. But there was a clear cause and effect here.)
I clearly wasn’t thinking straight by the time the person started yelling at me. If I had been thinking straight, I would’ve just pulled over and ended the ride. Instead, due to the already high stress and adrenaline level that I had due to everything else that had been happening, I lost my cool. My point is I should’ve ended the ride while I was still thinking straight. To hell with my rating.
I’m going to try to remember this ride the next time I get a ride where the passengers clearly don’t understand basic decency and basic passenger behavior. Sure, have a good time. Sure, use my aux cord. But the minute the line is crossed from “general obnoxious drunk behavior” to “putting me in danger”, we as drivers have the right to immediately stop the ride, have the passengers get out, protect ourselves and contact the authorities if we feel unsafe.
Have you ever been threatened by a passenger, and what happened if so? What are your recommendations if drivers are threatened by passengers?
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-Will Preston @ RSG