Uber said Thursday it is adding an emergency button to its app that will allow riders to call 911 in cases of emergency. File photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE
April 12 (UPI) -- Uber is adding a button to its ride-share app that will call 911 in cases of emergency, as the company seeks to upgrade safety for its passengers and drivers.
In a statement Thursday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said ensuring safety is a "huge responsibility."
The Uber app will now feature a safety center where riders can learn about key information, including a built-in partnership with law enforcement, driver screening processes, insurance protections and community guidelines.
As part of the major safety overhaul, riders will be able to designate up to five friends and family members as "trusted contacts" and share trip details of every ride.
Uber will allow passengers to share real-time locations with a 911 operator.
Uber said federal regulators estimate up to 10,000 lives could be saved every year if first responders were able to get to a 911 call just one minute quicker.
On driver background checks, Uber said it plans to strengthen its screening process by proactively rerunning criminal and motor vehicle checks each year, regardless of whether there is a legal obligation to do so. The company will also invest in technology to identify new offenses.
"Technology can make travel safer than ever before," Khosrowshahi said. "And while there's been a lot of progress, we're committed to doing more."
Uber's safety changes follow multiple incidents over the last few months, including the death of an Arizona woman who was hit by a self-driving Uber vehicle -- which prompted the company to halt its autonomous vehicle testing nationwide.
Uber has also faced criticism over drivers sexually assaulting female passengers, including a 2016 case involving a woman who said she was assaulted by a driver who'd taken her to her hotel.
Earlier this week, Uber also announced plans to offer multiple modes of transportation -- like bikes, car rentals and the ability to allow users to book public transit tickets.
"I am committed to being true partners to cities for the long term," Khosrowshahi said. "This partnership will take many forms over time. As a start, today we're excited to share a series of product updates that give riders more ways to get around without needing a car, and new ways we're collaborating with cities."
Uber's upgrades Thursday came on the same day the Federal Trade Commission announced an expanded settlement over charges the company deceived customers about a major data breach in 2016.
"After misleading consumers about its privacy and security practices, Uber compounded its misconduct by failing to inform the Commission that it suffered another data breach in 2016 while the Commission was investigating the company's strikingly similar 2014 breach," Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said.
"The strengthened provisions of the expanded settlement are designed to ensure that Uber does not engage in similar misconduct in the future."
The FTC said Uber employees in 2014 improperly accessed consumer data -- and although Uber developed an automated system for monitoring employee access to personal information, it stopped using it after less than a year.