It’s shorthand for the potential danger faced by women using app-based, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. And if you’re already dismissing how dangerous it can be, you’ve obviously missed the rash of headlines like these from across the country.
- A 37-year-old Uber driver was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a female passenger in Orange County (KABC Santa Ana, Calif, April 2017)
- Man Impersonating Uber Driver Sexually Assaults 2 Women (WBBM Chicago, March 2017)
- Uber Driver Charged With Rape Ordered Held After Dangerousness Hearing (Boston Globe, August 2016)
- Fake Uber Driver Arrested After Brutal Sexual Assault of Passenger in Westlake: LAPD (KTLA-TV Los Angeles, April 2016)
- Police: Uber Driver Returns to Rape, Burglarize Passenger at Her Home (FOX-TV New Orleans, January 2016)
- Police Had Tip That Lyft Driver Charged With Sexual Assault Planned To Flee Country (Dallas Morning News, November 2015)
You read correctly. Per that second headline, we’ve now reached the point where bad guys are actually posing as Uber drivers in order to lure unsuspecting women into their cars.
“With the alarming number of alleged sexual assaults involving ride-hail app drivers, it’s urgent that we bring this issue to the forefront of conversations,” says Delilah Rumburg, CEO of the nonprofit National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
To that point, the organization has allied with another nonprofit, the National Limousine Association (NLA), which — in calling for a “Passenger Bill of Rights” last year as part of its “Ride Responsibly” initiative — has been spearheading a nationwide movement to subject drivers for the Ubers of the world to the same rigorous criminal background checks as those behind the wheels of taxis and limos.
To up the ante, both have enlisted Pamela Anderson — she of former “Baywatch” fame — to make their case in a Public Service Announcement. “You can’t always vet the driver you are using,” she says in “The Driving Game!” video, “but the service you are using should.”
Whether even Ms. Anderson will be enough to steel the backs of politicians up against formal opponents in the ride-hailing industry in general, and that Uber in particular, remains to be seen. The main sticking point? Forcing the industry to finally start spending the extra bucks to fingerprint their drivers instead of relying on what NLA President Gary Buffo dismissively calls, “the perilously in-comprehensive background checks” Uber and its ilk continue to defend.
The former “Baywatch” beauty is out with a new public service announcement (PSA) called “The Driving Game!” that slams the ride-hailing industry. As an homage to the classic TV game show, “The Dating Game,” Anderson plays a passenger grilling three male contestants vying to drive her home, and — given the slew of Uber and Lyft drivers who’ve been accused of rape, murder, and other crimes across the country — you can understand why the two identified only as “Ride Hail App Drivers” come off as something akin to dates from hell.
“Have you ever been drug tested?” Pam asks the sleaziest of three.
“No, what kind of drug should I be testing?” he smirks.
The video is part of the “Ride Responsibly” campaign launched last year by the nonprofit National Limousine Association (NLA) —with whom the National Sexual Violence Resource Center teamed up for the PSA — that seeks to overcome the Ubers of the world’s resistance to subjecting their drivers to the same rigorous criminal background checks as those behind the wheels of taxis and limos. “That includes spending the extra money to fingerprint their drivers,” says Buffo.
For Pam, though, the safety issue is also extremely personal.
In 2014, during the Cannes Film Festival, she publicly revealed having been both raped at age 12 and “molested from age 6 to 10 by my female babysitter.”
“I went to a friend’s boyfriend’s house, and when she was busy, the boyfriend’s older brother decided he would teach me backgammon, which led to a back massage, which led to rape,” the Associated Press quoted her as saying at the time. “My first heterosexual experience. He was 25 years old, I was 12.”
As for the video, which continues to rack up views on YouTube, Anderson winds up choosing Driver No. 3 (a.k.a. “Not a Ride-Hail App Driver”), who assures her that he’s licensed and screened, and considers Pam’s safety “my top priority.”
Having thus found her dream date — that is, dream driver — Pam closes with this parting message: “Be safe. Think before you app.”
Just how formidable is the ride-hailing industry?
Consider this: a few months after Uber and Lyft pulled out of the Austin, Texas, market last May, rather than comply with new fingerprinting regulations that voters had just endorsed, the issue came up again in Massachusetts. Boston, you see, had been experiencing a slew of alleged sexual assaults by Uber drivers that left women on edge. Even so, lawmakers were unable to muster the votes needed to include a fingerprinting requirement in the statewide law that ultimately passed.
“It’s really frustrating when you see these attacks happen over and over again,” State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who favored fingerprinting, tells the Boston Globe. “It’s hurtful to the victim and hurtful to the community.”
“When,” she adds, “is it going to stop?”