Uber, Bolt (previously known as Taxify) and other e-hailing services are easy to use and convenient. But you’re essentially getting into a car with a stranger, so it’s important to know how e-hailing services keep riders safe. We take a look.

Driver and car safety

The first thing many of us want to know is – are drivers qualified, good drivers and is their vehicle roadworthy? E-hailing services require all drivers to have valid driver’s licences, and roadworthy, licensed vehicles.

Checks
Uber requirements and checks for drivers:

  • Drivers need a South African Professional Drivers Permit – for which you need a criminal record police clearance certificate
  • Drivers must pass a driving evaluation
  • Vehicles are inspected annually
  • Driver hours are monitored – after 12 hours drivers are prompted to go offline for six hours so they can rest
  • Speed alerts remind drivers to maintain a safe speed

Uber also offers injury protection insurance, which covers passengers and drivers in the event of an accident or crime-related incident during an Uber trip, according to an Uber spokesperson.

To become a driver on the Bolt platform, drivers undergo driver training and need a Professional Drivers Permit. Background checks, such as a fingerprint-based check through the government’s fingerprint database are completed and only people with a clear record are permitted to join the platform, according to Gareth Taylor, country manager for Bolt in South Africa.

Ratings
Passengers rate drivers for each trip at the end of the trip, usually out of five stars.

Ride-sharing platforms can ban drivers with low ratings, so it is in a drivers’ interest to keep their rating high. Ratings can also be disputed, so if you give a driver a low rating you need good reasons, such as exceeding the speed limit, reckless driving or making calls using a hand-held phone.

“Low ratings are investigated,” says Gareth. Low means anything under 4.5 stars for Bolt. For Uber, the minimum rating is calculated per city.

App safety features

There are features added to apps to protect passenger safety. Standard features are photos of drivers and vehicle registration details. When a rider requests a trip the vehicle type, model and registration come up with the name, photo, and rating of the driver.

Check your ride
When your ride arrives, check the type of car, colour and registration, and the driver. It has happened that a passenger gets into a car they think is their ride, but it isn’t. Uber has recently started reminding passengers when they request a trip to please check that they are in the right car.

Share your trip
The Uber app offers a “share trip” status that allows you to send details of your trip to trusted contacts so they can see where you are on route. You can set people up as trusted contacts in settings. If you are delayed or take a wayward route the person you shared your trip with will be able to see where you are.

“Bolt riders can also share their estimated time of arrival with friends and family so they can see their trip in real-time on the map,” says Gareth.

Support and response
Uber’s app features a 24-hour toll-free passenger support contact that can be accessed through the Help menu or by clicking on the safety shield – bottom right.

In the case of safety incidents or accidents, the Incident Response Team can be contacted by using “I had a safety issue” on the Help menu. They will call you back. This service is also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Bolt offers an SOS button that will connect you to emergency services.

Top tip: Take some time to get to know the app and all the features, and keep your app updated so the latest safety features are included in your version.

Hot spot smarts

Unfortunately, e-hailing hasn’t been incident-free in SA cities with stories of passengers and drivers being forced out of cars by metered taxi drivers, allegations of attacks and theft.

Drivers are in constant contact, so they know about problem areas and let passengers know where a safe pick up point is.

Be SA road smart

In addition to the special safety features these services offer, don’t ignore the problems all road users have to deal with. So, keep your windows locked and don’t have valuables in plain sight – a criminal may decide to put their hand through the window and take your tablet or phone. Don’t forget to check for suspicious vehicles at your destination or following you on a dark and lonely road.

You need to behave too!

Services like Uber and Bolt have rider and driver guidelines. Many of these are intended to keep you safe, and make sure your rider experience is a good one.

Uber’s Community Guidelines detail how riders should behave, and they are regularly updated. Some are obvious such as wear your seatbelt, don’t ask your drive to break the speed limit, don’t leave a mess and treat your driver with respect. But there are also guidelines relating to firearms, which Uber asks you to leave at home.

In closing

Uber and Bolt say they work with authorities to improve safety, and their apps and websites are continually updated with safety features and tips. Follow these and your trip should be safe and pleasant.

Top rider safety tips