Before we can look at ways to protect ourselves, let’s first look at what the greatest dangers are. Once we know the dangers, then it’s easy to figure out the best way to protect ourselves from them.

First, there are two types of dangers. There are knowable and preventable dangers, and there are unknowable and unpreventable dangers. A knowable danger would be something like knowingly getting into an Uber with the wrong driver. An unknowable danger would be getting into the right car, but with an Uber driver who was carrying a concealed weapon.

Getting into the wrong car

Getting into the wrong car is not only a knowable danger, it is an easily preventable one as well. It’s also an extremely serious danger. At least one person we know of lost her life as a direct result of getting into the wrong car. She got into a car she thought was her Uber, but neither the license plate number, nor the car make or model matched the vehicle the Uber app told her the driver would show up in. So, this is one danger you do not want to ignore. It can indeed be a very dangerous mistake to make.

To be clear: You should always verify that the license plate number, make, model and color of the vehicle match what the Uber app says your driver will show up in.

Drivers who show up in a vehicle that is different from the one the Uber app shows you, happens a lot more often than you would imagine. Most of the drivers do it not realizing how serious a violation it is against Uber’s terms of service. They usually do it for a variety of innocuous reasons. They might do it because their regular car is in the shop and they can’t afford to lose days of work so they borrow a friend’s car thinking it won’t hurt anybody. Most of the time their reasons are benign. But for passengers, the consequences of getting into one of these unknown and uninsured vehicles can be very serious indeed.

There are several types of situations where you may be induced into getting into the wrong car. The first and most dangerous type of situation is when someone who is not an Uber driver but is impersonating one. There have been many stories of passengers who have been picked up by people pretending to be their Uber driver — who didn’t drive for Uber at all.

The impersonators have had various motivations for doing this. The most common is simple theft. They hope to get passengers in the car and then convince them to pay for the trip in cash. These fake drivers might tell passengers when they enter their vehicle that their phone suddenly stopped working, but offer to complete the trip if the rider will pay cash. They may ask the passenger to pay whatever the Uber app told them the trip would cost or they may offer to accept a discounted amount — as an incentive for the passenger to accept their offer.

If you find yourself in that type of situation, count yourself lucky, because all they want is your money. It could have been much worse. There are other driver impersonators who have truly evil intentions. They impersonate drivers as an easy way to get strangers into their cars so they can rape, molest and/or murder them. This has happened many times.

The good news is, getting into the wrong car is easily preventable. In fact, Uber has done much to make it difficult to do. The first and foremost way to protect yourself from getting into the wrong car is to note the license plate number on the app, which you can see, after Uber assigns the trip to a driver. Then, when the driver arrives, check the license plate on his car to make sure it matches. You’ll also want to check the make, model and color of the vehicle to make sure it all matches up.

This sounds easy enough and a lot of people who are reading this will say, “Yes, yes, of course I would do that.” But when the time comes, they don’t do it. I’ve found myself not doing it. I don’t do it because when the moment comes I just want to rush into the car and be on my way. Checking all this will add a few seconds to my trip and I’m typically already running late. I don’t do it because I feel embarrassed knowing the driver must be thinking I don’t trust him. I don’t do it because I simply don’t think it’s necessary to do it this time.

The bottom line is that for a variety of reasons, in practice, people don’t do this even though they know they should. So, I want to urge you to always do it — even when you’re 99.99% sure it’s not necessary.

If someone who isn’t an Uber drive pulls up and tries to trick you into believing he’s the driver you are waiting for, he will never be able to pull the wool over your eyes if you have checked to verify that his license plate number matches up with the one you were shown on the Uber app.

My wife and I have gotten into the habit of checking this every time and we have been surprised to learn that about 5% of the time the license plate and the car description don’t match up. In those cases, the driver did receive our call through the Uber app and he did know our names. But, whether or not he actually worked for Uber is another question. We never found out, because we didn’t get into those cars.

They have all claimed they were legitimate Uber drivers, but that they were driving a friend’s car for the day because their car was in the shop. That is a highly plausible story and we’re guessing it was probably true in these cases. However, it is strictly forbidden by Uber’s rules for a driver to show up in any vehicle that’s not exactly the same vehicle they have on file with Uber. So even if you get a believable sob story from the driver, do not get into his car. You don’t want to be in the car with a driver who is breaking all the rules. For one, you won’t be covered by Uber’s insurance if there’s an accident. And two, this driver might not even be an Uber driver. He may be driving using a friend’s app or he may be using an app found on a stolen phone, either of which means he hasn’t undergone Uber’s background check.

Preventable danger

Far and away, the most preventable danger is when the driver and passenger get into an argument. Drivers and passengers have posted hundreds of videos on YouTube documenting unnecessary arguments between themselves that led to a dangerous situation.

Probably the most common scenario happens when the passenger is drunk. A drunk passenger might take something the driver said in a bad way when it wasn’t intended that way. Or even if it was meant that way, the drunk passenger may react so strongly that it upsets or scares the driver.

There is an interesting dynamic between driver and passenger on each Uber trip. It’s something most people don’t give any thought to because it’s so natural. But, whenever you put two complete strangers together in a car you have a heightened potential for trouble. That’s because neither party knows the other or how the other might act or react. Both parties are constantly feeling each other out to get a sense of how safe they are in the presence of this stranger. So, you as the passenger don’t want to do anything that may alarm your driver.

That means anything from raising your voice in anger to in any way threatening your driver. Remember, you’re a complete stranger to your driver. He doesn’t know what a great person you are — yet! But he has run into many not-so-great people in his time as a driver so he is always on high alert, and anything you do that’s out of the ordinary may put him on the defensive.

Most passengers run into trouble when they’ve had a little too much to drink. That’s when their inhibitions are down and they’re more likely to behave in a way that a driver might find threatening or at least concerning. It’s also when the passenger’s own situational awareness won’t be as sharp as usual and they may misread warning signs.

In most situations when tensions between driver and passenger have escalated, they can usually be brought back down if both people would just stop talking. And if your driver doesn’t volunteer, you’ll put yourself in a safer situation if you do the honors and zip it. If the driver says something you find insulting and you have a powerful urge to respond and put him in his place, just forget it. It’s not worth the potential trouble. What if he is carrying a concealed weapon and your response angers him further? Getting into heated conversations with drivers who are complete strangers to you is never worth it.

The best way to retaliate is by leaving him a low rating on the app after your ride is over or filing a complaint with Uber.

Safety first

Always think “safety first” when you use Uber or Lyft. Make sure you get into the right car, and always be aware that drivers have had many bad experiences with customers, so they’re constantly watching their passengers very carefully for any signs that something might be amiss. Don’t give them any reason to suspect they should have any worries about you.

And if you do have an incident that you need to report to Uber and Lyft, there are plenty of ways you can contact customer support to report it. Here are all the ways you can contact Lyft, and here are all the ways you can contact Uber.

Happy riding!

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