Starting on February 11th, Uber passengers in India will have access to an in-app panic button that alerts local police in case of emergency. While the ride-hailing service previously said the feature will be available worldwide, it will be released in India first in response to the transportation department's demand for tighter security measures. If you recall, a New Delhi woman accused an Uber driver of rape in December, so the agency demanded a physical panic button in cabs, among other security features. The department even recently asked the government to ban the service for good (its operations were halted for several weeks after the incident), as it believes the company failed to comply with its demands.
That has prompted Uber to respond through its blog, where it posted all the security measures in place within the country, including a more stringent driver screening program. Uber Mumbai's general manager also explained why the company decided not to put physical panic buttons in its vehicles:
As a technology company, Uber does not own cars or employ drivers. We partner with independent contractors who are appropriately licensed to provide commercial transportation by the government. This means that these drivers are free to work with other operators.
Imagine you enter the vehicle of a driver who works on four platforms. His/ her car will need to have four physical panic buttons. In a situation of distress the rider would have to pick the correct operator's panic button to be able to get help on time. That's 25% chance of success; and a decision that has to be made and executed in a split-second, if at all.
In addition to causing confusion, we found that not only are physical buttons prone to wear and tear, but also mechanical malfunctions. There is no way to ensure that they are kept in working condition across all the cars in the city.
In addition to the digital panic button, Uber has also made it easier for passengers in India to share their routes, driver/car details and real-time locations with up to five family and friends.