Are ride-sharing regulations enough to keep users safe? - WSMV News 4

Are ride-sharing regulations enough to keep users safe?

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Even if you've never used services like Uber or Lyft, you likely know someone who has. (WSMV) Even if you've never used services like Uber or Lyft, you likely know someone who has. (WSMV)

Summertime means more people coming to Nashville for vacation. It also means ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft putting more drivers on the road to help those tourists get around the city.

This the opposite of what's happening in cities like Austin, TX, which no longer allows Uber and Lyft.

Back in May, Austin-area voters rejected a proposal by Uber and Lyft to self-regulate their drivers and mandated stricter rules on the companies. This would have included fingerprint background checks and emblems on cars.

The ride-sharing companies left the city the next day. DWI arrests are now up eight percent in Austin.

Another city following in their footsteps is Chicago. A couple weeks ago, the city council there voted in favor of harsher regulations and now could be the next city to lose Uber and Lyft.

These ride-sharing companies have been in Nashville since 2014. Back then state leaders signed a bill that passed legislation that allows transportation network companies to be self-regulating.

But the Channel 4 I-Team wanted to know if the laws in Tennessee tough enough to keep people safe.

If you haven’t used Uber and Lyft yet, chances are you know someone who has. Whether it's catching a ride to the airport or calling one for a ride home after a night out on Broadway, drivers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But just how much do you know about the person picking you up?

One woman downtown told Channel 4, "I’ve used it at least six times since I’ve been here two days."

The woman is in town on business and said she depends on Uber to get around.

The I-Team asked if she felt safe getting around in one of the cars.

“I do,” she said. “I feel safer because there's a lot of information you get before you even get in the cars, so I do feel safer than getting in a taxi."

When using Uber, the app gives users the driver’s name, make and model of the car, and their rating based on other people’s experiences.

“Each and every day we're seeing more and more riders open the app and take a trip. We believe it's really important for riders to understand that this is an option, a safe and reliable option,” said Tom Maguire with Uber in Nashville.

Last year, Emmett Lyons Jr., a driver for Uber at the time, was accused of raping a 22-year-old customer in Murfreesboro.

Lyons had quite the criminal history, but Uber only checks offenses within the last seven years. Lyons crimes were from the 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2015, Rebecca Seaver told Channel 4 her driver was going as fast as 85 mph and wouldn’t slow down when she asked him to.

“At that point I just felt stranded and kind of stupid. I didn't have a weapon on me, no way to protect myself, so I felt really stupid at that point,” Seaver said.

Tennessee is one of at least 30 states where the law is written so that the ride-sharing companies are largely self-regulating. In Tennessee, Uber and Lyft use private contractors to conduct background checks instead of state or local police agencies.

In 2014, state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, signed the bill that made it legal for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in the state.

“Is the law tough enough? Does it keep people safe?” the I-Team’s Lindsay Bramson asked Watson.

“I just don't think there's data that shows it doesn't. I have heard zero complaints about our legislation,” Watson said.

But could the reason Watson hasn’t heard complaints be because the city doesn't keep track of them?

Nashville’s Transportation Licensing Commission tells the I-Team that because the transportation network companies are self-regulating, there's nothing they can do and they have zero authority over them.

The I-Team also learned Metro police do not have have a way to separate complaints made from ride-sharing companies.

But numbers given to the I-Team by Metro police do show a decrease in DUI arrests since ride-sharing companies came to Nashville.

From January to June 2014, there were 1,479 DUI arrests. In 2015 during that same time frame, that number dropped almost 14 percent to 1,277 DUI arrests. And during the first half of this year that number dropped another nine percent.

“Here we are two years later. When you look back is there anything you would change?” Bramson asked Watson.

“The state's looked at the process the industry is using and has said, OK, this process is OK,” Watson said.

Despite that, some riders warned others to be careful.

“You need to be alert. You never know what’s going to happen. You’re getting in the car with a stranger,” Seaver said after her scary ride last year.

Watson said he doesn't see a reason to toughen up the law in Tennessee and there are no plans to change it as of right now.

The I-Team asked both Uber and Lyft how many drivers they have out on the roads in the Nashville area as of today. Both companies would not share those numbers with us.

We have also learned there is a new feature with Uber that started this year which allows users to share your estimated time of arrival with family and friends. They can share that information with someone so they know you made it home safe.

Copyright 2016 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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