Uber unveils new safety features amid scathing report
An explosive new Washington Post report raises fresh questions about how Uber handles passenger safety. It focuses on Uber's "special investigations unit" which handles some of the worst incidents reported by passengers. The Post says agents in the unit are coached to put the company ahead of passenger safety -- allegations Uber disputes.
The report comes as the ride-hailing company unveils new safety features it hopes could prevent the kind of fatal error police believe South Carolina college student Samantha Josephson made when she mistook a car for her Uber earlier this year.
Tracey Breeden, a former police officer who now heads women's safety at Uber, told CBS News' Kris Van Cleave, the company "really felt the responsibility to step up, even though that was not an Uber driver … but to step up and see what more we could do to create a safer environment."
Soon a new optional verification system will require a driver to get a PIN code from their rider before a trip can start.
"The driver enters the PIN, you get an indication, a notification on your phone saying yes this is the right car," explained Sachin Kansal, Uber's senior director of safety product management. "Whether it's checking the license plate, checking the name and now with the PIN verification, you should confirm that before you get in the car."
Uber wants to take this PIN verification system a step further by having your phone seamlessly talk to the phone of the Uber you've called. It will then tell you when the right vehicle has pulled up, that your ride is verified and this is the car to get into.
Next month – first in Los Angeles and then elsewhere – riders can text 911 from inside the app, automatically sending the vehicle description, license plate, current location and destination. You'll also be able to report safety issues during a ride.
Wired editor-in-chief Nick Thompson said the changes Uber is making are smart and will help, but added that there are "so many riders and so many passengers they are not going to make the entire problem of passenger safety go away."
The new features come as the ride-sharing industry at large faces scrutiny over passenger safety. This month, more than a dozen women sued competitor Lyft alleging it mishandled reports of sexual assault. Lyft says "safety is fundamental" adding it launched 14 new safety features this year.