Uber today introduced two new features aimed at enhancing safety for passengers in India, where the car service has come under increased scrutiny after a driver allegedly raped a female passenger late last year. The new features, available as part of an in-app update, allow users to share details of their rides with up to five contacts, and to call the police using a new SOS button in case of an emergency.
The new "Send Status" feature is an enhanced version of the ShareMyETA option that has been available for over a year. After ordering a car, users can choose to share details of their ride — including the driver's photo, license plate number, and live GPS tracking — with up to five pre-selected contacts. Those contacts can then track the ride in real-time from start to finish, and the customer won't face any SMS charges.
The SOS button, located in the top right of the screen, is designed to let users quickly contact local authorities in the case of an emergency. After tapping it, the rider will be prompted to confirm the call before placing it. Uber hinted at these changes late last year, after the company vowed to deploy a "local team of specially-trained safety experts" to strengthen background checks of its driver. It was later reported that the driver accused of raping the female passenger near Delhi also faced rape charges in 2011.
Last year's incident in Delhi sparked widespread controversy in India, where services like Uber are generally seen as a safer alternative for female passengers. According to recent government statistics, 585 women were raped in Delhi in 2012, more than any other Indian city. That's likely a lower bound, as well, since the figure doesn't include the rape and sexual assault cases that go unreported. Delhi officials responded by banning Uber from operating in the city, but the company last month resumed operations after applying for a taxi license — a distinction that has been central to ongoing protests against the service across the globe.
The new features are currently available as an update for Android users, and an iOS version will be released soon. For now, the company is piloting them across all cities in India — where it's seen tremendous growth — and will release additional safety features across other cities "in the coming months."