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Lyft adopts new safety measures after surge of lawsuits over sexual assault

After a surge in lawsuits from ride-hailing passengers who say they were sexually assaulted by their driver, Lyft (LYFT) on Tuesday announced efforts to roll out new app features designed to enhance customer safety.

“Today, we’re taking further action toward our goal of making Lyft the safest form of transportation for everyone with new initiatives to better predict if someone needs help; to provide easier access to emergency assistance; and require sexual violence prevention education with RAINN [Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network],” Lyft’s president and co-founder John Zimmer said in a statement about the initiative.

Starting Tuesday, Lyft says it is beginning to build a system that it will roll out this year called “Smart Trip Check-In,” designed to predict if passengers require help. According to the company, a dedicated Lyft team will communicate with riders and drivers when a ride appears to have unexplained delays. Lyft says it will inquire if the parties need support, and if necessary, request emergency assistance on their behalf.

A driver rides his car in front of the Lyft Drivers Hub in Los Angeles, California, March 29, 2019(Photo by Apu Gomes / AFP) (Photo credit should read APU GOMES/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition, Lyft says it’s creating a collection of safety features available from a single location within its app, including access to 911, for both passengers and drivers. In May, Lyft started providing in-app 911 access for passengers, which displays current location information and vehicle information to help passengers inform emergency dispatchers. The company came under criticism for adopting the technology nearly a year after its competitor, Uber (UBER), and prioritizing a driver-only emergency 911 feature.

‘We must heavily invest in safety’

In a partnership with the anti-sexual violence organization, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, Lyft also announced that starting this fall, it will require all Lyft drivers to complete Community Safety Education training, as well as agree to its Community Guidelines. Anyone reported for violating the guidelines, which prohibit physically touching passengers or drivers without consent, and abusive, discriminatory, sexual or inappropriate language or gestures, the company says, will either be removed from its platform or required to take additional community safety education.

“We’re committed to playing a significant role in connecting our communities with transportation, and we understand the responsibilities that come along with that. We've known since the beginning that as part of our mission, we must heavily invest in safety,” Zimmer wrote.

In a San Francisco Superior Court complaint filed last week, 14 women from across the U.S. say they were sexually assaulted or raped by their Lyft driver between 2018 and 2019. The crimes, they say, occurred because of lax hiring standards and a failure to warn passengers about those standards. The lawsuit also claims that in 2015 and 2016, Lyft received close to 100 reports of its drivers sexually assaulting passengers — from a single U.S. state.

Lyft says its current safety practices include daily and annual monitoring for any criminal convictions reported concerning its drivers with criminal backgrounds, and exclusion of such drivers from its platform, as well as route sharing and driver photo and license plate tools for passengers.

See also:

Lawsuit against Lyft sheds light on number of women claiming sexual assault by drivers

Alexis Keenan is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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