Wait... how many rapes took place in Uber cars?

An exceedingly disturbing safety report released by Uber last week has been drawing a lot of attention. After conducting a comprehensive review, the company declared that more than 3,000 sexual assaults (including more than 200 rapes) had taken place during Uber rides in 2018. While any number is too many, those certainly sound like some alarming figures. (Associated Press)

Uber acknowledged more than 3,000 sexual assaults occurred during U.S. Uber rides in 2018, the company said in a long-awaited safety report.

That figure includes 229 rapes.

Uber and competitor Lyft have faced a backlash for not doing enough to protect the safety of its riders and drivers.

I’ve no idea how the company drives that number down, but clearly they have to do better if at all possible. But given that every ride involves a human driver (for now) and one or more human passengers, we do need to ask how far out of the order this is in American society. I looked around to see if there were similar figures available for traditional taxi rides, but they apparently don’t publish those figures.

A bit more perspective was offered by Michael Graham at Inside Sources. Looking over some of the MSM coverage of this story, Graham concludes that Uber is being given “the Richard Jewell treatment.” His reason for saying this is that the numbers are being taken a bit out of context. Here’s one of the main reasons.

Yes, it’s true that Uber’s recently — and voluntarily, it should be noted — released safety report said there were 5,981 claims of sexual assault in 2017 and 2018 on rides in the U.S, including 464 reports of rape. And given the horrifying nature of the crime, even a single rape is enough to (rightly) inspire outrage.

What’s lacking, however, is context. These incidents occurred over two years and 2.3 billion Uber rides. Or as the headline at libertarian Reason Magazine put it: “The Chance of Your Uber Ride Ending in a Rape Is .00002%”

By the way, the odds you’ll be killed by lightning this year? About .00002%.

Recognizing that this is such a vanishingly small percentage of Uber rides helps to put the story in perspective, but there’s another huge factor to consider. Reading the headlines of many of these stories, it’s easy to assume that we’re talking about male Uber drivers raping or sexually assaulting female passengers. But as Graham goes on to point out, that’s not a true picture of this report. Of all of these attacks, in 45 percent of the incidents, the rider was the one accused of assaulting the driver, while 54 percent accused the driver of assaulting a rider.

So statistically speaking, female Uber drivers are at vastly greater risk (though still only a tiny percentage) of facing sexual assault than female customers because they are giving multiple rides per day while passengers are in an Uber far less frequently. While Uber has to do the best job possible screening their drivers, they can’t do much about the customers beyond ensuring that drivers are trained to defend themselves as well as possible.

Of course, it doesn’t matter whether it was the driver or the passenger committing the assault. They’re all abominable. But while every individual incident is a horror story, .00002 percent would appear to be well below the national average for incidents of sexual assault. For example, the rate is far higher for women walking on college campuses according to some reports. (We should note that those figures have been disputed as well.)

In the end, an Uber ride is much like every other encounter in life. It involves people leaving their homes and going out and interacting with other human beings. And a certain percentage of those people, sadly, have a propensity toward crime and violence. Good background checks on people applying to be drivers are essential, but it won’t catch everyone. Some people are likely suspects but they’ve simply never been caught yet so they pass the check.