Auto Tech

Uber continues to take safety seriously

The ride-sharing giant's new safety advisory board along with other related efforts show the company is heeding security concerns.

Uber hopes to put more complaints to rest once its safety advisory board starts implementing new ideas for improving driver and passenger safety.

Uber appears to be making good on its promise to put safety at the forefront of its ride-sharing service.

The San Francisco-based company on Tuesday said it has put together a safety advisory board in response to concerns about insufficient driver background checks and security overall.

The board pulls professionals from all walks of life who will collaborate with the goal of ensuring a smooth, safe experience for drivers and riders, Uber said. It brings the company that much closer to meeting its 2015 goal of working more closely with governments and experts, "to figure out the right ways to tackle the challenges we face as we build technology that allows anyone to push a button and get a ride," the company said in a blog post.

Uber offers a smartphone app that sidesteps taxicabs and provides a connection between people who want a ride and de facto cab drivers who pilot their own vehicles. Since its launch six years ago, the service has grown from a small startup into a multinational service that provides rides in 295 cities and 55 countries. In the process it has become the world's highest-valued startup, with a valuation of more than $50 billion.

It's also been the subject of criticism regarding safety. Drivers have attacked passengers, passengers have attacked drivers and one rider was even kidnapped. Some members of the public blame insufficient background checks, but no matter the cause, there remains plenty of room for improvement.

The company had already started to promote safety within its ranks. Earlier this month, it rolled out a pilot project called SafetyNet, which allows passengers to share their Uber's ETA with friends or family. Pre-selected contacts will get access to a map detailing the passenger's whereabouts. Uber also currently contributes to public safety by sending out Amber Alert messages to all local drivers.

For now, there are six members of the new safety advisory board, including a former police commissioner, law professor, government official and executives from a tech company and a not-for-profit organization. They will be integral in devising new company strategies insofar as public safety is concerned, Uber said.

About 70 employees currently work on Uber's safety and security team, which covers everything from cybersecurity to product development. It's led by Joe Sullivan, who ran a similar department for Facebook before joining the ride-sharing giant.