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Uber's first safety report notes nearly 500 rapes in 2 years

The ride-hailing company separately reports that 19 non-sexual fatal assaults happened during its rides in the US in 2017 and 2018.

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Uber has compiled data on all of the serious incidents that have happened during its rides over the last two years.

James Martin/CNET

After dozens of allegations of sexual assaults committed by its drivers, Uber promised in May 2018 to publish a "safety transparency report." The idea was to release data on the number of alleged assaults that occur during its rides in the US. Now, a year and a half later, Uber has finalized that report

In its 84-page report, Uber said 99.9% of its rides ended without any safety reports and that the remaining 0.1% mostly detailed minor safety issues, like harsh braking. That leaves 0.0003% of rides that had "critical safety" incidents. 

Of those critical incidents, there were 464 rapes in 2017 and 2018 combined. In 2018 alone, there were 235 rapes, which averages out to four per week. Over the course of the two years, there were more than 5,500 other incidents of sexual assault ranging from unwanted kissing to attempted rape. The most common sexual assault was groping, with 1,440 reports in 2017 and 1,560 reports in 2018.

"Voluntarily publishing a report that discusses these difficult safety issues is not easy," Tony West, Uber's chief legal officer, wrote in a blog post Thursday. "Most companies don't talk about issues like sexual violence because doing so risks inviting negative headlines and public criticism. But we feel it's time for a new approach."

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Uber

Drivers were also victims of alleged attacks 45% of the time, according to the report. But in the case of alleged rape, riders were the victims 92% of the time. Uber also reported 19 non-sexual fatal assaults over the two-year period. 

"Each of those incidents represents an individual who has undergone a horrific trauma," West told NBC News in an interview. "But I'm not surprised by those numbers. And I'm not surprised because sexual violence is just much more pervasive in society than I think most people realize."

Hundreds of passengers and drivers have come forward over the past few years alleging sexual assault during rides. Several lawsuits have been brought against Uber by people saying they were raped, kidnapped and groped by the service's drivers. Similar allegations have been made against Uber's rival Lyft, which has been sued by at least 56 women since August alleging sexual assault by its drivers.

Lyft also pledged in May 2018 to publish a safety report, but it's unclear when that will be released. A company spokeswoman said it's still committed to creating a report. "It is Lyft's goal to make the US ridesharing industry the safest form of transportation for everyone," she said.

In its report, Uber said more than 1 million prospective drivers didn't pass its background checks in 2017 and 2018. And since it launched its continuous background checks in 2018, more than 40,000 drivers have been removed from the app. Some advocates for victims say Uber could still do more by requiring its drivers to undergo fingerprint background checks, something the company has long resisted.

Several advocacy organizations applauded Uber on Thursday for releasing this data. Those organizations include the National Network to End Domestic Violence, RALIANCE, the National Crime Prevention Council, It's On Us, NO MORE, Jane Doe Inc., RAINN and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

"As an advocate who has been working in the movement to end sexual violence for the past 20 years, I welcome this unprecedented report," Karen Baker, CEO of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said in an email. "By releasing this data publicly, Uber is confronting these challenging issues head-on rather than shying away from or minimizing the numbers." 

To combat sexual assaults, Uber has added several safety features to its app over the past year. Those include: RideCheck, which sends a push notification to drivers and riders if there's an unexpected long stop along the way; on-trip reporting, which lets riders report an incident before the trip has ended; and a text-to-911 feature that includes location information and the car's make, model and license plate.

West said Uber is working on several more initiatives to reduce the number of critical incidents. One is sharing information about deactivated drivers with other ride-hailing companies, like Lyft. Another is creating a ride verification system for passengers that uses a unique four-digit PIN. Uber said it will also continue to release safety reports every two years.

"Of course, this is more than an 'Uber thing,'" West wrote in the blog post. "Safety should never be proprietary, and it's our intention to make an impact well beyond our own company."

Originally published Dec. 5, 4:19 p.m. PT. 
Update, 4:54 p.m.: Adds comment from Lyft spokeswomen and additional background information. 
Update, 5:46 p.m.: Adds comment from Karen Baker, CEO of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and additional background information.