CINCINNATI -- Decades ago, most Americans would have balked at the idea of climbing into a perfect stranger's car and trusting said stranger to drive them home safely. In your own childhood, your parents probably told you that getting in a stranger's car was a one-way ticket to becoming a milk carton celebrity.
As of 2016, however, about 15 percent of Americans used and trusted ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft, which encourage users to do just that. The expectation of a quick ride in a regular-looking car means some of those users, according to Sgt. Eric Franz, have hopped in the wrong vehicle by mistake.
"We've had a couple of reports over the years," he said. "Back around Thanksgiving, we had one documented case where a lady walked out, she thought she was getting into her Uber, and she got into another car. She reported that she had been sexually assaulted."
In Los Angeles, one man was even arrested for posing as a rideshare driver with the intention of preying on female passengers.
Scripps station WCPO in Cincinnati asked Ryan Higgins, who estimated he uses a ridesharing service at least once a week, if he had ever taken steps to make sure he was getting in the right car.
"Honestly, now that you say that, I don't think I've ever done anything," the Cincinnati resident said. "I think they just say, 'Hey, Ryan?' or they say my name, and I just go for it."
Franz said intoxicated would-be riders are the most likely to make a mistake and put themselves in a vulnerable position, but anyone can benefit from a few simple safety tips.
First, make sure you've got the correct license plate before you get in a car. Uber and Lyft both display the plate number as soon as it matches you with a driver so you can spot the correct vehicle.
Next, get into the back seat, not the passenger seat. If you have gotten into a car with a person of ill intent, it's easier to escape from the back than the front, where they might be able to physically restrain you.
"(If) somebody's doing something inappropriate, it becomes very obvious very quickly," he said. "You can get out of the car right away."
Finally, if you connect with the correct person but they still seem a bit shady, let a family member or friend know where you are. A quick text can ensure there's someone asking later whether or not you got home safely.