Authorities, riders offering ride sharing safety tips after recent sexual assault allegations

MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - Police in the University City have their hands full, after two people believed to be driving for ride sharing apps were charged with sexual assault.

The allegations against both an Uber and Lyft driver have prompted police investigations, and internal investigations within the ride sharing companies.

Now the ride sharing companies, police, and frequent riders, are offering tips on ways to protect oneself.

Many said these apps are like getting in a car with a stranger. Many students who utilize them say it's a cheaper and convenient way to safely get from one place to another. With the two recent accusations, it has Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer offering some tips.

"I think it's important to be familiar with your surroundings any time you're out on the town,' Palmer said. "The second thing I would say is go in groups. Travel in groups, not one person at a time."

Those we spoke with weren't telling people not to take advantage of these services. It's just a matter of doing it safely.

"Never drink in excess where you're not familiar with everything going on around you," Palmer said. "It's a disaster. It's set for a disaster."

Students are often some of the frequent clients for these drivers. Even they know there are ways to be cautious about it.

"That's never the first thing that comes to mind, but you can always be prepared about it," said Ian Im.

"Anybody that's going to do that should take the precautions and think about what could happen," said Shelby Hough. "Not necessarily that it's going to, but think about what you're going to do if that situation arises."

5 News reached out to both Uber and Lyft regarding the alleged incidents.

Uber's Statement: "What's been reported is awful and something no person should have to go through. We have been working with local law enforcement to provide them with information needed for their investigation and the driver has been removed from the app."

Uber's spokesperson says they don't have a record of the ride that's mentioned in the criminal complaint. The complaint also says the man facing charges denied having picked anyone up during the time, and denied ever seeing the victim when he was shown a picture.

Police say they took DNA swabs from the accused and had them compared to the sex crimes kit from the victim. The complaint states the lab positively compared the accused DNA and that from the sex crimes kit.

Lyft Statement: "We take allegations of this nature very seriously, and the driver has been deactivated from the Lyft platform. The safety of the Lyft community is our top priority - our concern is with the well-being of the passenger. We stand ready to assist law enforcement in an investigation."

Both companies have safety tips posted on their respective websites.