The Uber Technologies logo and website are displayed on an Apple iPhone 5s and laptop computer in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2014. (Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer)

Uber will check in with riders and drivers if something seems off

Uber announced a slew of new safety features Wednesday intended to give both riders and drivers peace of mind when using the app.

The biggest change is a system called “Ride Check.”

Uber says it’s an extension of the GPS system that tracks riders and drivers within the app – only now, it will be leveraged to detect possible crashes and anomalies such as unusually long waits. The system will send an alert to both the rider and driver asking whether there’s an issue, and give them the option to contact authorities or reach Uber’s safety line.

Uber says the feature is tuned to “flag trip irregularities beyond crashes that might, in some rare cases, indicate an increased safety risk.”

It’s a proactive system designed to minimize crash response time and address fears for rider safety on an app where there have been numerous reports of violence and sexual assault.

The safety changes were announced Wednesday at a New York press event marking CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s first anniversary with Uber. Khosrowshahi, who took over in the wake of repeated scandals and fears about Uber’s freewheeling approach to local regulations, has spent his first year trying to bolster the company’s safety credibility – with features like a 911 button, enhanced driver screening and timely follow-up on background checks.

“Today, we’re raising the bar on safety by unveiling new features that will help protect all our customers and the information they entrust to us,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

Other features Uber introduced Wednesday are aimed at making drivers less reliant on their handsets, including voice commands to allow for hands-free pickups and communication with customers. Uber says drivers can “can accept trips and communicate with customers using just their voice.”

Uber is also expanding a so-called panic button pilot to cities including Washington, Boston and San Diego. The company says riders and drivers can call 911 directly through the app, and doing so will automatically send location, license plate and car make and model information. Uber says drivers, too, will have access to the emergency button allowing them to contact authorities through the app.

Another tweak will alter the digital data trail left behind once a trip is completed. Instead of having access to users’ pickup and drop-off locations, Uber says, drivers will now see customers’ general pickup and drop-off areas in their trip logs – rather than actual addresses.

“[W]e’re further protecting riders’ information by concealing specific pickup and drop-off addresses in the driver’s trip history,” Uber said.

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