China’s Didi Chuxing adds more safety features following passenger murder

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing firm, is rolling out new security systems one month after a female customer was raped and murdered by a driver, the second such fatality on its Hitch service this year.

Today the company said it introduced a number of new safety features which include random biometric ID testing for drivers (in addition to a selfie-based log-in each day) and the introduction of an SOS button within Didi’s driver app which connects directly to police. Didi said that SOS feature is tied into “a streamlined critical response process” — which includes “a special police response team” set up to assist with issues on the Didi service — and there are fatigue and tiredness alerts for drivers.

Earlier this month, Didi added a safety center featuring guidelines and help, and updated the SOS button within the passenger app so it goes directly to the police rather than customer support agents. The company also started trialing an on-route audio recording function for its Express and Premier services.

Didi’s CEO and chairwoman earlier said that it plans to prioritize user safety over growth.

The company faced strong criticism after it emerged that its own systems had been at fault in both murders. For the first fatality, the driver who committed the murder bypassed Didi’s driver authentication system (using an account belonging to his father) while a sexual harassment complaint lodged against the account before the incident was not followed up on.

The second murder showed further problems. The driver had been flagged to Didi’s safety team just one day before the murder after a female passenger complained that he had requested her to ride in the front seat and then followed her for some time after she left his vehicle. Yet, the safety center representative who handled the complaint had not followed company policy of initiating an investigation within two hours.

Didi fired two executives following the second murder — the general manager for Hitch and the company’s vice president of customer services — and it suspended the Hitch service for the second time this year.

China instituted new regulations around ride-sharing last month which included tasking provinces and autonomous regions with setting up passenger safety committees and ensuring that incidents are investigated promptly.

Rival Meituan, which raised $4 billion from an IPO in Hong Kong last week, entered the ride-hailing space earlier this year. The company has been keen to battle Didi but, perhaps sensing the difficulty of the moment, it suspended plans to expand beyond Nanjing and Shanghai and into more parts of China.

Didi has been without a strong direct competitor since it reached a deal to acquire Uber’s China-based service two years ago.