DoorDash adds in-app safety features, but couriers need more protection

DoorDash is adding a set of tools for its delivery workers called “SafeDash,” which includes a way to contact an agent from the ADT security company or to call 911 through ADT. The company is first launching the tool in major cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, but says it’ll roll out to all its US couriers by the end of the year.

While it’s good that DoorDash is acknowledging the dangers its delivery workers face, some advocates say that SafeDash won’t help solve the problems of thieves targeting them for their money or bikes, and the apps giving them routes that put them in harm’s way.

According to DoorDash, SafeDash will give delivery workers a button that will have an ADT agent call them if they feel unsafe. That ADT agent will also be able to contact the authorities if the driver is unresponsive, or if something obviously goes wrong. Delivery workers will also be able to skip the call in an emergency situation and have ADT contact 911 for them. The security company will be able to give the Dasher’s GPS location to the police and will communicate with the delivery worker through text so they can relay information to authorities without having to actually talk out loud.

Those who work for DoorDash and other services like it face a variety of dangers posed by inattentive drivers, poor infrastructure, the weather, and other people. A report from The Verge detailed the danger bike delivery workers in New York City can face when their route includes going over bridges or through tunnels where they’re often ambushed by people looking to steal the expensive e-bikes they need to stay competitive. Through it all, they’re expected to complete deliveries on time — otherwise, they worry they might be downgraded and get fewer gig offers.

One of DoorDash’s competitors, Uber, also has a panic button that works in a similar way for drivers, couriers, and riders. But some delivery workers, whose work puts them at risk of injury and robbery, feel like a technology-based solution isn’t going to fix the issue. “We don’t need an app to call 911,” Hildalyn Colón-Hernández from the Worker’s Justice Project told The Verge. Instead, she says, workers need to be able to choose areas that they feel safe working, and not face penalties for prioritizing their safety over a completed delivery. While New York City is working on legislation to codify those kinds of protections into law, protections will still be needed for workers in other cities.

Hernández says that by adding the SafeDash feature, DoorDash is signaling that it knows it has a responsibility to keep its workers safe, which it hasn’t necessarily done enough in the past. The dangers delivery workers face have been shown in reports by both advocacy organizations like the WJP and Los Deliveristas Unidos, and from media outlets like The Verge, but until recently they haven’t been faced head-on by companies, legislators, or even customers. They’re still an everyday reality for delivery workers, though — Hernández says that 19 NYC Deliveristas have died on the job in the past 18 months alone, and there have been other incidents throughout the country as well.

While delivery apps may be beginning to acknowledge that they have a role to play in keeping their workers safe, society is still grappling with how gig workers should be treated. California voters passed Proposition 22 almost exactly a year ago, which made it legal for companies like DoorDash, Lyft, and Uber to classify their workers as contractors instead of employees (and therefore exempt them from benefits like company-provided health insurance). The law has since been ruled as unconstitutional.