Roadshow

Uber unveils safety features, including faster 911 calls

The ride-hailing company says it's also improving driver screening and adding a former US secretary of Homeland Security to its safety advisory board.

Uber plans to add several new safety features this summer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Ride-hailing company Uber has introduced new features for its app in an effort to improve passenger safety.

The features include a Safety Center for the app, a dedicated section where people can set up features like trusted contacts and 911 assistance. Those are both new features as well, allowing riders to share their ride information with loved ones and the police during an emergency. The features will be available this summer, according to a statement from the company.

Uber's latest effort to deal with rider safety follows numerous past headlines about dangerous situations with drivers. In 2015, Houston prosecutors alleged that an Uber driver took a drunk female passenger to his home and raped her. In 2016, a man in Michigan who allegedly went on a fatal shooting spree turned out to be an Uber driver who had passed the company's background check. That same year, California prosecutors filed charges alleging that Uber's background checks failed to weed out 25 drivers with criminal records.

The concern over rider safety continued as Uber faced internal turmoil over the last few years, and the added features come as new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tries to turn the company around.

"Helping keep people safe is a huge responsibility, and one we do not take lightly," Khosrowshahi said in a statement. "That's why as CEO, I'm committed to putting safety at the core of everything we do."

The trusted contacts feature lets riders add up to five people who can get their trip details and track every ride. You can also set it so ride information is shared only at night.

The 911 assistance tool lets riders use a single button to connect with an emergency operator and share their GPS location. The feature is currently available only for riders, but Uber plans to launch it soon for drivers as well. The company is starting a test program in Denver that lets riders use the emergency button to automatically send their location and trip details to the 911 operator.

The ride-hailing company also said it's improving how it screens drivers; it'll conduct annual background checks and receive automatic notifications when a driver commits a criminal offense, like drunken driving. Uber said it would use public records to track that information and make sure people are still eligible to drive for the company.

Uber is also adding Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of the US Homeland Security Department, as the chairman of its safety advisory board.

'Alexa, be more human': Inside Amazon's effort to make its voice assistant smarter, chattier and more like you.

CNET en Español: Get all your tech news and reviews in Spanish.