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SideCar mobile app lets you grab a car ride with local drivers

A new app for iOS and Android can hook you up with people willing to drive you to a local destination.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Tired of waiting for taxis or paying big bucks for a limo service? A mobile app dubbed SideCar may be just the ticket.

SideCar plays matchmaker between people who need a lift and community drivers willing to give them a ride. Passengers reward the driver with a voluntary and cashless payment after they reach their destination.

How does it work?

Registered users of the iOS or Android versions can fire up the SideCar Passenger app and set the locations where they'd like to be picked up and then dropped off. The app then displays a suggested donation, and a ride is eventually arranged on the fly through one of the service's drivers.

Just out of beta today, the service is currently available only in San Francisco. But SideCar is promising "lots of expansion very soon."

SideCar sounds like a promising idea. But of course, there's one major issue. As our mothers warned us when we were kids, "Never get into a car with a stranger." That's obvious advice whether you're an innocent child or a supposedly savvy adult.

So how can riders be sure the driver is safe? SideCar says that all drivers who sign up are checked to make sure they're licensed and insured. Background investigations are also run. The online process requires scans of all necessary documents and an interactive interview via a webcam.

SideCar CEO Sunil Paul also revealed further details to TechCrunch.

"We have multiple layers of safety," Paul said. "You have to have a valid credit card. As a driver we put you through multiple screens -- background check for past criminal activity, license verification, insurance verification. We do interviews with drivers, and we train the drivers."

Okay, but what about the flip side? SideCar drivers don't know who's getting into the car. How do they protect themselves against the wrong passenger?

Passengers as well as drivers are required to submit personal information, including credit card details, before they can hop aboard the service, according to SideCar.

Paul also told TechCrunch that drivers and passengers can both rate each other, so the company is able to investigate any complaints. Based on bad ratings, SideCar has already kicked out some drivers and passengers.

Despite SideCar's precautions, there's always the chance of the wrong passenger or wrong driver getting through the system. Incidents at sites like Craigslist and Skout show how online anonymity can lead to disaster.

Personally, I'd be too wary of using a service like this, either as a driver or a passenger. I think I'd still feel more comfortable with a registered taxi or limo. I don't know if other people feel the same. But if so, perhaps the challenge to SideCar lies not in its expansion but in convincing people of the safety and security of its service.