Since the creation of ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, the scrutiny towards the companies behind them and the pressure to make them safer has been intense.
Although background checks on drivers is the industry standard in its effort to avoid dangerous situations, many wonder what happens when a vehicle operator or rider needs to contact 911.
Now, a new feature on Uber’s app is alleviating those dangerous moments and bringing more peace of mind to first responders and rideshare passengers.
Starting today, Uber is a launching a feature in its app nationwide which will allow riders and drivers a new way to text 911 seamlessly with information about the ride, including its current location, even if the driver has strayed from the route.
The technology was first piloted in Los Angeles, Indiana and Minnesota and 911 dispatchers are saying that the new feature is saving lives.
"We've had a number of instances where it saved lives where someone who was in a compromised position and it was too dangerous to talk," Todd Austin, Dispatch Manager at the Los Angeles Police Department Austin told ABC News. "They were able to text us that information, we were able to dispatch help and lives were saved."
According to Uber, the feature is now available wherever "Text to 911" has been activated by area 911 officials, including dozens of counties and metro areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Washington State. In addition to creating a text message to 911 operators, the app also automatically sends them location information through a system called RapidSOS used in more than 60 cities across the country.
Here’s how it works:
The text to 911 feature populates a text message on your phone to 911 with key trip details including locations and vehicle information.
Then, an initial message will populate and say that you are taking a trip with Uber, along with the vehicle information and your intended destination, along with the line “My emergency is…” Users can then add the specifics of their emergency there.
If your vehicle keeps driving and may not be headed toward the planned location, Uber will automatically send critical, real time location data to dispatchers when you contact 911 through the app.
"If there is no other thing that we can get from a caller, location is the most important thing you need to dispatch," said Austin. "People don't know where they are. They might know a landmark, but generally they don't know the address where they are and this has helped to take what might have been a two minute process to try to narrow down where they were and we have that instantly," said Austin.
Lyft does not have a Text-to-911 feature in the app, but it does allow drivers and riders to connect with 911 from within the app via a phone call, according to a spokesperson for the company.
The app also displays the user’s current location and vehicle information, including license plate number, making it easy for users to tell 911 dispatchers their details. The ride-hailing app is also piloting a new partnership with ADT in 10 markets where if you can’t talk, you can tap, ‘Alert 911 silently.’ ADT will contact 911 on your behalf and share your location and car details.