Uber to introduce panic buttons in cars after series of alleged attacks in South Africa

Measures come after reports of assaults on at least three female passengers

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The Independent Online

Uber is preparing to introduce panic buttons in its cars in South Africa after a series of alleged attacks linked to the app.

The company said it was testing a number of ways to improve security over the coming month, including a pilot of dashboard-mounted cameras in Cape Town and the "SOS" button service in Johannesburg, which will link cars to the company's central security system.

It comes in the wake of a high-profile incident in which a woman was allegedly picked up by an Uber driver, strangled, thrown in the boot of the car, robbed and sexually assaulted.

The woman was raped after the driver took her to an ATM and ordered her to withdraw 5,000 rand - around £280 - according to Ulrich Roux, the lawyer who is representing the victim and another passenger involved in a alleged similar assault.

"She is still traumatised from the incident," Roux told the eNCA news agency. "However, she's determined and has been working with police to make sure the perpetrators are prosecuted."

After another incident last week involving an alleged attack on a female Uber passenger, the ANC Women's League issued a statement warning "all women to be vigilant when choosing to utilise this service".

Two men have been arrested in relation to the alleged attacks on Roux's client, and Uber's  general manager Alon Lits has since said one of the suspects is a former Uber driver with no criminal record, who was not a member of the service at the time of the incident.

The victims, however, have questioned that statement, saying they received official Uber receipts for the journeys in question.

A few days before the ANC Women's League statement, Uber said it was updating its service in South Africa so passengers will be told the color of the vehicle they’ve requested, its model, licence plate number and details about the driver.

It appears the panic button will only be available to the driver in the Johannesburg pilot scheme, although there has been talk of it being made available to passengers as is the case in India.

An Uber Africa spokeswoman, Samantha Allenberg, welcomed the ANC Women's League's input, telling The Washington Post that “any violence or aggressive behavior is completely unacceptable".

The Independent has approached Uber for comment.

“If there is any allegation of wrongdoing by a driver, they are immediately prevented from accessing the app until an investigation can be concluded,” she said.