I have never felt unsafe in an Uber ride before. I’ve always felt as though Uber was the most reliable form of transportation, especially around college campuses. Until recently, every ride I’ve experienced has been safe and reliable and the drivers have always been friendly. However, this past Friday night negates every good experience I’ve ever had with Uber.
When I requested an Uber to drive me and my friends home from a party on Friday, it was around 1 a.m. We were all tired and ready for bed. When we got into the Uber, we said our friendly “hellos” and I tried to make small talk for the 20-or-so minute drive back to campus.
The driver and I were talking about his car, while my two friends were in the backseat engaged in their own conversation. The driver started to talk about how he never tolerates “ignorant” people who are in his car. As we talked, at some point my friend in the backseat put her feet on the back of my headrest on the passenger seat. The driver noticed, and got angry fast, claiming she was being “ignorant.”
The driver slammed on the breaks, causing all of us to jolt forwards and back against the seat, pulled over on the side of the road, and told all of us to get out of the car while screaming things I couldn’t make much sense of. Because we were nowhere close to campus, I tried to calm the driver down, saying that my friend meant no disrespect.
Eventually, the driver calmed down. As he abruptly pulled off of the curb at a very high speed, it was clear it was with the apparent intent of intimidating all of us in the car. As the driver continued to speed, he said something to the effect of my friend being “lucky, because if she were a man, he would grab her by the scruff of the neck and drag her out of the car.”
Sitting in the passenger seat, I scrunched myself as close to the window as possible. The driver obviously had a short fuse, if all it took was my friend putting her feet on the seat for him to threaten us.
The trip went on as one of my friends, who is male, tried to talk with the driver in hopes of diffusing the situation. However, the driver quickly steered this conversation to his experience with a previous passenger who accused him of sexual assault. The driver not-so-subtly said he was thankful he had a camera on his dashboard so he could prove the women wrong. The driver’s explanation of the sexual assault allegation came across completely sexist and demeaning towards women. Having admittedly forgotten that I was dealing with a short fuse, I told the driver that, “There is a very small percentage of women who wrongfully accuse men of sexual assault, no?” The driver scoffed and tried to come up with a response, so I repeated (maybe too sassily), “So, a small percentage, no?”
As I should have expected, the driver again slammed on his breaks, pulled over and put the car in park. Only this time, the driver got out of the car which scared me and all of my friends, so we entered survival mode and proceeded to run away. At this point we were on the side of Flagg Road. We all hid behind the small barrier that separated us from the road and watched as the driver did a fast U-turn and sped away.
As we arrived back to campus after walking, I called Uber and made a report. I told them exactly what happened and our immediate concern that this unstable man was picking up other people from parties in the area. It is not difficult to imagine that any other college student leaving a party could unwittingly cause this driver to enter into a fit of rage and provoke a violent and angry outburst.
I waited 10 minutes after filing the complaint and Uber did not contact me. I called again and told them that, as we continued to think about the situation, we felt that this driver needed to be off the road. I told Uber, “I’m on a college campus and I was physically and verbally threatened along with my friend, and I’m worried about other young women out there. So how can I ensure that he’s not picking up other young girls so they’re not threatened. Where does Uber ensure that?”
All the person had to say was that he was “limited” in what he could do. I then asked who would be helpful to me then. “Who can I call that can ensure he’s not picking up other young women,” I said. “Is there no one?”
“As of right now, I really don’t think so,” the Uber representative said. “They’re going to call [you] though.” They never called…
Unsatisfied with Uber’s response, I called URI Campus Police. To URI’s credit, they took the matter very seriously, calling me back within a minute and sending dispatch to my room to discuss the situation because they said they would not be taking this matter lightly.
We all made written statements for the police. From there, I got an email saying the officer requested that the driver be restricted from picking up students at URI until the investigation is over. As of two days ago, I heard back from the officer asking if we still wished to go forward with the charges, and that it would be necessary to testify, if we wanted to do so.
I’ve always been the type of person to not shy away from an important cause out of my own self-interest. But after thinking about it more, I realized the only reason I would go forward with the charges is to teach this man that treating other people like this is not okay. I would want to look him in the eyes and tell him (and a court) that intimidating and threatening young people with aggression and vile words is not tolerated in today’s society, and will most definitely not be taken lightly by me.
However, realistically, someone with that temper and aggression over small occurrences will not act rationally. If we were to go through with the charges, this driver wouldn’t see the error of his ways. After observing his behavior in the car that night, I would fear for my well-being if I were to bring this man into my life by pressing charges, and for what? So he could be charged with disorderly conduct? It wouldn’t change how we felt and it certainly wouldn’t change him.
Even though we won’t be going forward with charges, I hope serious and severe consequences are in store for a man that threatens to put his hands around a young woman’s neck.