The hacks you need to safely use ride-share apps like Uber in dangerous places

Not one more.
Not one more.
Image: Reuters/Daniel Becerril
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The horrific case of a teenager allegedly murdered by a ride-sharing app driver in Mexico is yet another reminder of the failing justice system in a country where many criminals are correct in thinking they won’t be punished.

In the days after the body of Mara Castilla was found in a ditch, wrapped in a motel sheet, Mexicans have renewed their calls for that system to be fixed. In the meantime, the app companies, local authorities, and others are coming up with some guidelines for women—and everyone else—to protect themselves.

Cabify, the app Castilla used to hail the driver accused of killing her, said in a statement it was installing a panic button so riders can alert police when they feel they are in danger. The company will also share the names of drivers who are dismissed for improper behavior.

Those policies rest on the assumption that authorities will be able do their job, including quickly locating a rider in distress. A case in India, where Uber has added an SOS button, highlights its potential limitations. The rider, who described her experience on Catch News, said that though authorities answered her call, they had no way to locate her. She had to try to describe where she was as her driver sped around.

The Cabify driver accused of killing Castilla, identified only as Ricardo Alexis N., had previously worked for Uber (link in Spanish) and been fired for violating safety protocols. According to Uber, it provided authorities with all the information it had on him at the time. Cabify, in turn, says it got a clean record from the office of Puebla’s state attorney general when it screened the driver.

The state has responded to the killing by revoking Cabify’s license (Spanish.)

How to better protect yourself

Women have started posting on Facebook offers to host any female friend overnight if they don’t feel they can safely get home. A 10-point list (Spanish) written by a blogger is also being widely shared in social media. Here are some of her recommendations, abbreviated:

Turn on the GPS locator in your phone; make sure the phone is charged and has enough credit to make calls. (That feature allowed police to track Castilla’s movements after she boarded the Cabify car.)

Never sit in the front seat next to the driver, where you are more vulnerable.

Sit in the back, on the opposite side of the driver so you have a few seconds of head start to bolt out of the car if the driver tries something.

Take pictures of the license plate, and a screenshot of the driver’s profile in the app, and send them to a relative or friend who will be monitoring that you arrive safely. Never get in the car if the license plate doesn’t match that shown on the app.

From the moment you get on, make sure you’re online with your relative or friend. Make sure the driver knows this.

Lock your car door, but make sure the child lock is not activated so you can get out if needed.

Get out at the next busy intersection if the driver makes disturbing comments.

To be sure, no measure will completely eliminate risk. “It may be that we’re more vulnerable because it’s impossible to compare physical strength, but let’s be alert,” wrote the blogger, Silvia Carbonell. “Let’s be a step ahead and take care of ourselves. Because we accept that nobody protects us.”