As soon as Tayla Pimlott’s Uber pulled up to the kerb, something felt off.

It was an ordinary weekday afternoon in the Adelaide CBD and the 27-year-old had just finished work.

“The Uber driver pulled up at this weird angle, like [he was] kind of preventing me from getting in the back seat,” Ms Pimlott recalled. 

“Looking back, it was like he wanted me in the front, but I still wiggled my way around and got in the back seat.”

With her seatbelt on, she began monitoring the journey on the Uber app.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the driver was behaving indecently.

Tayla Pimlott received more than 740,000 views when she shared her story on TikTok.(Supplied: TikTok)

“So many things were going through my head. This man could pull off to the side of the road, cancel the ride … All the bad things [that occur to you] in those sorts of situations, which I think a lot of girls go through …  it was just really scary,” she said.

“I thought about jumping out, but I couldn’t figure out how to unlock the doors.”

Instead, she alerted both her mum and her boyfriend to what was happening and began sharing her location with them.

“That’s when I also thought … ‘I need to record this for proof. Because otherwise, they’re not going to do anything. Even if I say something’,” Ms Pimlott said.

“I recorded two snap chats, two very shaky snap chats, because I didn’t want him to see me.”

Tayla Pimlott said she contemplated jumping out the car.(ABC News: Viki Ntafillis)

When the Uber pulled up outside her house, Ms Pimlott had to ask the driver to unlock the doors.

“The way he looked at me, I was pretty sure he knew I knew what he was doing,” she said.

The 27-year-old immediately reported the incident to both Uber and South Australian Police and the driver was arrested and subsequently charged with indecent behaviour.

After pleading guilty to the offence, the man was placed on an 18-month good behaviour bond, requiring him to be “supervised by community corrections and abide by directions relevant to sex offender treatment and counselling”.

Not common, but not unheard of

Criminology professor at the University of Melbourne Bianca Fileborn said sexual and other forms of harassment were not common experiences among the taxi and rideshare customers she surveyed in a 2022 study.

However, half of those surveyed reported “unwanted flirting” from taxi and rideshare drivers.

“Things like unwanted comments about your appearance, sexual life, or intrusive questions about ‘do you have a partner?’ that sort of thing,” Professor Fileborn said.

The survey also found participants typically felt safer using rideshares over taxis due to rideshare apps requesting and recording journeys, thus creating a digital “paper trail” that could ultimately hold any driver who behaved inappropriately to account. 

Uber recently introduced a privacy-audio recording feature which can assist in investigations.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

“People really like some of the features of apps that came with rideshare services … things like being able to share your journey with a friend,” she said.

“Having some kind of record of ‘I’ve been in this driver’s car, this is the name of them, [and their] license plate’. 

“I think that gave people some sort of security that if something happened, I have at least some sort of evidence.”

However, due to the lack of transparency around how Uber responds to complaints, Professor Fileborn said it was not clear whether these features did protect people.

‘I felt like I was being held hostage’

Harrison Cal relied on Uber for a long time and said his overall experience with the company had been positive.

“Drivers are usually friendly, you’re able to get from A to B quite reliably and safely,” the 24-year-old accountant said.

Harrison Cal said his overall experience with Uber had been positive.(ABC News: Annabel Francis)

However, around seven months ago, Mr Cal questioned the safety of the service when a driver refused to drop him closer to his destination.

“He responded saying ‘this is close enough,’ I said ‘normally I’d understand, but right now it’s pouring down with rain, do you mind going any further?'”

Mr Cal said the driver became aggressive and drove away erratically with him still in the car.

“I asked ‘what you are doing, where are you going?'”

The driver told Mr Cal he had accepted another job and ignored his further questions.

“I had no control over what was going on, I’m in someone else’s car,” he said.

“[I felt] incredibly unsafe, it was overwhelming … I felt like I was being held hostage.”

The driver only let Mr Cal out of the vehicle when he threatened to call the police.

After reporting his experience on the Uber app he says it took the company two weeks to send him a “generic message and a refund”.

Audio recordings could boost safety

Uber recently introduced a privacy-audio recording feature that can assist in investigations.

“Since April 2024, riders and driver partners have had the peace of mind of being able to enable audio recording through the Uber app’s safety toolkit to help encourage safe and comfortable interactions,” an Uber spokesperson said.

“To ensure both privacy and safety are protected, all recordings are encrypted and stored on the user’s device.”

The recordings can only be accessed if the rider or driver partner reports an incident to Uber and chooses to attach the audio file.

Senior research fellow at Flinders University Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen said technology had played a huge role in the safety of rideshare companies.

Senior research fellow at Flinders University Dr Paul Gardner-Stephen said technology provides a sense of accountability.(ABC News: Annabel Francis)

“If we go back to before there was GPS tracking, before there were these options for recording audio or vision, then really you’re going into a vehicle, you don’t know who the driver is,” he said.

“The accountability was much less and so the potential for people … to do something which might not be in your interest, there were less barriers.

“If we can create technology so that people aren’t anonymous, then they’re much less likely to misbehave.” 

How did Uber respond?

Tayla Pimlott said she immediately shared her location with her mum and boyfriend in case something happened.(Supplied: Tayla Pimlott)

Ms Pimlott said she was left shaken by her experience and was not satisfied with Uber’s response.

“At the time, I didn’t know how I was feeling. I didn’t really want anyone to know that I had gone through this. I felt a little bit ashamed,” she said.

“I always thought Uber was safe. It’s not. It’s nowhere near safe.”

She added that Uber had been quick in responding to her complaint, with a representative calling her shortly after she lodged it as she was on her way to the police station to report the driver. 

The person apologised and refunded her but Ms Pimlott felt the process for submitting the necessary proof Uber requested was complicated and confusing. 

Ms Pimlott said she was further frustrated by Uber not providing her with an update on whether the man had been removed as a driver from the app until she went public with her story.

When the 27-year-old recounted her experience on TikTok her video attracted more than 740,000 views. 

Tayla Pimlott learnt the driver had been removed from the Uber app when Uber commented on her TikTok.(Supplied: TikTok)

It also caught the attention of Uber, which left a comment informing her the driver had been removed from the app.

Ms Pimlott questioned why the company had not been able to tell her that information but “could post it on social media”.

Uber told the ABC the driver’s conduct “had no place in the Uber community or anywhere else”.

“As soon as we were notified of this report, we removed the driver partner’s access to the app immediately and permanently,” a spokesperson said.