Uber panic button alerts police to abusive drivers
Uber, which faces a lawsuit from passengers who have allegedly been attacked, has introduced a panic button on its app that allows passengers to report unwanted attention from its drivers.
Customers in the US can tap the button to notify emergency services during a trip that they feel unsafe.
Uber is expected to expand the service to customers in Australia.
The feature is part of a broader overhaul of Uber's sexual assault policies after a year of tumult. Travis Kalanick, Uber's founder, was ousted last year after reports that he had ignored a culture of sexual misconduct within the company and he was filmed in the back of a hailed car verbally abusing a driver who complained to him that Uber had dropped its fares.
The company also faces a class-action lawsuit in California brought by nine women who say that they were abused by drivers on rides.
A CNN investigation found that more than 100 drivers had been accused of sexual misconduct, but under Mr Kalanick's leadership Uber had a policy that discouraged users from bringing the abuses to court.
The company was banned in London last year because of safety concerns after the transport authorities said that it did not have the licence to operate. The company is still operating in the city pending an appeal.
Uber has lost up to 20 per cent of its valuation because of the problems, leading shareholders to demand reforms. Last autumn it appointed a new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, who brought in a slogan: "We do the right thing, period."
This month, Mr Khosrowshahi announced changes including an end to the policy of trying to force sexual abuse accusers to settle claims privately with the company, and the addition of the panic button feature. American Uber passengers can use the feature, which appears in a new "safety centre" in the app and dials the police directly.
About 15 million riders a day hail Ubers around the world. "It's clear that sexual violence remains a huge problem globally," the company said. "Uber is not immune to this deeply rooted problem, and we believe that it is up to us to be a big part of the solution."
The company has previously tested a panic button feature in India and had a non-emergency hotline available as a hidden feature in about two dozen American cities, but the services were not widely publicised.
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