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Uber adding safety features it resisted for years

FILE PHOTO: The Uber logo is seen on a screen in Singapore August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Picture
FILE PHOTO: The Uber logo is seen on a screen in Singapore August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Picture

After years of pushing back against major changes urged by riders and government regulators, Uber announced upgrades this week it said are aimed at keeping its U.S. ride-hail customers safe.

The company will add an emergency 911 feature akin to a “panic button” — a type of enhanced 911 that connects passengers directly with emergency personnel, and allows them to share their location with the operator.

The company said it also will bolster driver screening by mandating annual reviews of background checks to ensure drivers remain in compliance with its standards.

And it plans to allow riders to share their trip information with up to five “trusted contacts” on every trip so there are multiple sets of eyes to ensure rides go smoothly, the company said.

The changes, expected to be in place this summer, were unveiled as part of a broad package of changes that CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said represent a push to “double down on safety in our app” and “strengthen our screening process.”

“In the past, Uber conducted background check reruns in jurisdictions where required,” Khosrowshahi said in a blog post Thursday.

“Going forward, we’ll proactively rerun criminal and motor vehicle checks each year, regardless of whether there is a legal obligation to do so.”

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Uber has been criticized for what regulators have seen as relaxed driver screening standards. The company has resisted fingerprint-based background screening, which is preferred by law enforcement.

The company left the Austin, Texas, when local regulations mandated it — before returning last May. In Maryland, regulators agreed to a less stringent and costly process that both parties agreed could be as or more effective than fingerprinting.

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