Rachel Grate
February 10, 2015 9:50 am

Uber riders in India can feel a bit safer now, thanks to the new “panic button” app update coming out this Wednesday. The button will allow riders to notify the police immediately in the case of an emergency, and there’s also a feature to share your location with up to five friends — great for people like me who get paranoid every time the driver takes an unfamiliar road to skip traffic.

These updates are in reaction to a female passenger in New Delhi who accused her Uber driver of rape last December and sued the company in January. In the days following, New Delhi banned Uber from operating within the city, and Uber has been further banned in various regions across India. Additionally, the Mumbai Transport Department recommended the banning of Uber since the company had not yet (as of earlier this week) upped their safety game. This may be what led to the swift panic button implementation.

As for why they’ve chosen an app-style “panic button” rather than a physical panic button, since Uber doesn’t own the cars the button can’t actually be mandated. Additionally, there are worries about passenger confusion with a physical panic button — thus, the app.

There’s a downside to this step forward in technology: The new features have only been announced in India, with no current plans to expand to other countries. This is more than slightly disappointing, considering Uber has had plenty of sexual assault cases in America as well. Just last week, an Uber driver in southern California was accused of assault, and the company faced multiple cases of molestation and even kidnappings last summer, across the country from Seattle to DC.

This frequency of horrifying assaults is NOT okay. So why won’t other women around the world be able to feel more confident the next time they want to use Uber? Since the technology is ready, this seems like a simple step to show that the company takes women’s (and all passenger’s!) safety as seriously as it should. This is an opportunity for an important step forward from a company that has taken a lot of heat.

This type of “panic” feature is just what Uber needs to gain back the trust of its female customers. Unfortunately, if the case in India is any precedent, it seems like Uber won’t take those steps on its own until the government steps in.

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