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Uber's new safety feature checks on rides when it detects something amiss

If your trip has an unexpected long stop or a possible crash, you'll likely get a RideCheck ping.

This is what riders will see when they get the RideCheck push notification from Uber.

Uber

Uber will now be keeping tabs on all US rides. The ride-hailing company on Tuesday announced a new feature it's rolling out across the country that aims to detect when something goes awry during a trip.

Called RideCheck, the feature will send a push notification to drivers and riders if there's an unexpected long stop or possible crash. Drivers and riders then can respond whether or not they need help.

"We provide them, at their fingertips, a bunch of options to get help," Sachin Kansal, Uber's head of safety products, said in a phone interview. "Our goal really is to detect certain situations as they happen."

Uber provides millions of rides per day, but a small handful of those rides have reportedly ended in dangerous situations. Hundreds of passengers and drivers have come forward over the past few years alleging rape, kidnapping, forcible groping and assault during rides. Several lawsuits have been brought against the company by people claiming to have been sexually assaulted by drivers and several states, including California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Texas, have launched investigations into Uber on the issue.

Over the past three years, Uber has introduced several new safety features to its app. These include an emergency 911 button, anonymizing rider pickup and drop-off locations and a way to make it easier for riders to share their trip information with friends and family.

Uber isn't the only ride-hailing company being pressured to focus on safety. Earlier this month, Lyft was sued by 14 women alleging sexual assault by its drivers. The suit additionally alleges there were about 100 more reports of sexual assaults by Lyft drivers in California from May 2015 to May 2016. Lyft announced last week it was planning to add a new safety feature to its app called smart trip check-in. The feature appears to function similarly to Uber's RideCheck.

Uber first announced RideCheck last September and has been piloting and refining the feature since then. It launched in Los Angeles at the end of 2018, then rolled out to a dozen other cities in the spring, including Dallas, Detroit and Houston. It's now available for all US rides and will expand to other countries in coming months.

RideCheck works by GPS tracking each ride and then using that information and data from other sensors in drivers' smartphones to detect if a trip goes off course. After Uber sends drivers and riders a push notification, they will have the option of saying they're OK or reporting an issue to the company's safety line. Riders and drivers can also use the app's emergency 911 button.

"I really think of this product as a two-pronged product," Kansal said. The first prong being detection, he said, and the second being response.

Kansal said if drivers' phones are powered off, Uber will still be able to reach out to riders -- and vice versa. Uber's safety team may also follow up with a phone call if something still seems wrong.

"Safety is an ongoing journey for us," Kansal said. "We consider this to be a very important step in keeping our riders and drivers safe."