The stabbing death of a pregnant Lyft driver in Tempe on Jan. 27, followed by an attack Wednesday on an Uber driver in the West Valley, has renewed questions about driver safety and the companies’ differing policies on whether drivers can carry any type of weapon.
Lyft has a strict “no weapons” policy. Uber allows drivers to carry non-lethal weapons but regulates how they can be used.
The differing company policies are an issue for drivers who spoke to The Arizona Republic last week.
Mila Almodvoar, a former Uber driver, said she’s concerned because riders don’t get screened.
“I think drivers should be allowed to carry something to protect themselves,” she said.
The issue was elevated in Arizona last week after Fabian Durazo, 20, was arrested on suspicion of stabbing his driver, Kristina Howato, 39, outside a Tempe apartment complex around 1 a.m. last Sunday, Tempe police said.
Then on Wednesday, an Uber driver in the West Valley reported a person he had picked up cut his throat with a knife. An arrest was made a short time later.
Lyft and Uber have differing policies when it comes to how drivers can defend themselves.
In the case of an emergency, Lyft drivers are encouraged to call the company’s emergency number, referred to as a “critical response line,” the company policy states.
Lyft encourages anyone in immediate danger to contact police first before calling that line, or to use an in-app Emergency 911 button, company officials said, in response to an inquiry from The Republic.
According to Lyft’s weapon’s policy, drivers are not allowed to carry firearms and weapons such as “handguns, stun guns, explosives, knives, sling shots and Tasers.”
Lyft also reserves the right to determine anything that may constitute as a weapon, which can be defined as “any item that can cause harm to someone else … including pepper spray,” according to the Lyft representative.
The policy also applies to riders.
Lyft believes a weapon can make another person inside a vehicle uncomfortable, the representative said.
The company issued a statement after Howato’s killing last week.
“We were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of this tragedy, and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims,” the company said. “The safety of the Lyft community is our top priority. The passenger’s account has been permanently deactivated and we are actively assisting law enforcement with their investigation.”
A driver who works for both companies disagrees with Lyft’s policy.
Lane Jensen, who works in Portland, received life-threatening phone calls from a passenger after he passed his pick up time. The passenger was able to contact Jensen through the app.
He said an extra layer of self defense is necessary.
“Lyft, I don’t like that policy,” Jensen said. “Drivers need to protect themselves on the road.”
At a memorial ride held for Howato last week, which ended at Lyft’s Phoenix hub, several drivers who work for the company expressed concerns they have over safety.
“We put ourselves in the same position she was in every time we get behind the wheel,” said Teresa Avendano, a Lyft driver who organized the procession and knew Howato. “We don’t know who we pick up. We do a service to get people from one place to the other and we don’t know what danger is getting in our seat.”
Uber’s in-app emergency button automatically sends out the information of the driver (car’s make/model, driver’s name, etc.) to the nearest 911 dispatcher, in the case of an emergency according to Uber’s policies.
“There’s nothing more important than the safety of the drivers and riders we serve. Uber has a number of safety features in place for riders and drivers, including an emergency button, share trip feature, and 911 integration technology in 40-plus cities across the US,” said Andrew Hasbun, an Uber spokesman, in an email.
“We will continue to put safety at the heart of our business and expect to roll out more features this year.”
Uber prohibits drivers and riders from carrying firearms while using the app to the extent permitted by applicable law, according to Uber’s safety policy.
Non-lethal weapons are allowed.
Uber does not forbid things such as pepper spray, Hasbun said.
The company’s guidelines add the following: “Actions that threaten the safety of drivers and riders will be investigated and, if confirmed, lead to permanent deactivation of your account,” according to Hasbun.
Almodovar, who formerly drove in Connecticut, said she did not feel safe after an incident with a passenger.
After that, she brought a friend to ride with her, which led to a passenger complaint that resulted in a suspension.
“I stated my side of that case (to Uber) about feeling unsafe and being more vulnerable as a female driver. I had a ride along with me. Uber then lifted my restrictions, (but) I later cancelled my (driver) account with them shortly there after.”
After the Uber driver was attacked last week, the company issued the following statement:
“What the driver experienced is frightening,” Uber said in a statement. “There’s nothing more important than the safety of the drivers and riders we serve. We are relieved he is recovering and stand ready to help police in their investigation.”