By Isla LaMont
The association between Uber and danger is at the back of most people’s minds as they set foot into a stranger’s car, most particularly young females. But I never realized how much so until a good friend of mine and I both had frightening experiences with the ride-sharing service. So I began to investigate – what does the safety record of Uber really look like?
The first thing I found is that Uber claims to have “more rigorous background checks than taxis”, according to Uber’s general counsel Sally Yoo, but they do not ask for fingerprints or drug testing, and in many cases they don’t wait to receive the background check results before initiating new drivers. Absolutely no mental health screening is required either, all according to a safety report by Marie Claire.
One of the most notorious Uber incidents occurred on February 20 when Jason Brian Dalton randomly shot and killed six people and wounded two others on a five-hour shooting spree throughout Kalamazoo, Michigan, picking up fares along the way. In 2014, Uber made world headlines when a women on business in New Delhi was raped by her driver. India briefly banned Uber and now requires all vehicles to have GPS locators and a panic button according to the Washington Post. As quoted by CNN, Uber claims that the driver registered with his real name but a false address, which hindered the discovery that two years earlier he had been acquitted of rape charges. Nevertheless, he was still a working employee, despite having an unverified address and background as well as lacking the mandatory security badge given after police verification. Uber said that it is “keeping the victim in their thoughts” in response to the incident and remains “‘exclusively partners’ with registered drivers who have been through the commercial licensing process and who have government identification and state-issued permits” – which, quite obviously, is a lie.
Most recently, a whistleblower emerged from inside Uber’s customer service department and reported straight to Buzzfeed News. The former employee leaked screenshots of customer service receipts exposing Uber’s self-reported lie of having only “5 rapes and fewer than 170 sexual assaults between December 2012 and August 2015.” According to the screenshots, 6,160 complaint tickets for “sexual assault,” 5,827 for “rape”, 3,524 for “assaulted” and 382 for “sexually assaulted” could be found in the database. Uber initially responded that at least 11,000 of these entries were returned because either the driver or the passenger had the consecutive letters “R-A-P-E” in their names, or a customer left feedback such as “You raped my wallet,” but has since dropped that defense. The informant also claimed that in handling non-consensual sexual contact cases, employees were to “take media and law enforcement interest into account when deciding to escalate cases to higher-ranking employees.” This is not only illegal, but also troubling in the light of CEO Travis Kalanick’s leaked emails where he told his publicity staff to blame the media for portraying his company as “somehow liable for these incidents that aren’t even real in the first place,” instead of making real changes to Uber security measures, as reported by the Washington Post. Kalanick’s email was in response to activist Bridget Todd claiming she had been choked by her Washington D.C. Uber driver in a racially motivated attack.
As if that weren’t enough trouble up in headquarters, Uber’s New York City general manager is currently under investigation for misusing his access to private location information when he admitted tracking the location of a journalist. Then, there is the story of Olivia Nuzzi, another reporter whose Uber driver had shown her pictures he had taken of her previously without her knowledge. Uber lied to Nuzzi about their employees having access to rider’s personal information, then fired the driver without her knowledge. The driver then began emailing Nuzzi and her boss to ask for his job back.
Nuzzi is now working to compile a definitive list of “Uber Horror Stories”, and a small sample can be found published on The Daily Beast’s website. In January 2014, an Uber driver hit and killed a 10-year-old girl in San Francisco. Uber claimed that because the driver was not logged in to his app at the time, they remained not liable. The girl’s family claimed otherwise after it was discovered that Uber’s background checks failed to bring up a past reckless driving conviction. Three months later, another Uber driver was charged with assaulting his passenger. Looks like his multiple past drug-related felony charges also managed to slip by Uber’s “top of the line background check process,” as they said in responding a public statement. Then in October, a woman was “kidnapped” by her driver as he drove her around for 28 miles, ending in a deserted parking lot late at night, where he locked her inside the vehicle despite her repeated persistence to leave. She was returned home after she began screaming until he brought her to her original destination. Uber apologized for the “inconvenient route” and partially refunded her experience. There has been an instance of riders being unwillingly involved in high speed chases with their drivers, multiple hate speech reports, and numerous other minor assaults such as passengers being hit, slapped, or spit on by their drivers. In one confirmed case, a Chicago driver actually used a hammer to bludgeon his passenger, who suffered facial fractures, underwent intensive facial reconstruction surgery and may still lose his eye.
Finally, according to the ride-share incident database Who’s Driving You, and after eliminating cases already discussed in this article and relating to Lyft, I was left with my final tally of public cases involving Uber. Five additional cases of hit and run or death by collision involving an Uber driver, 5 DUI cases, 17 assaults, 5 kidnapping cases, and 23 cases of employed felons. Also included were 24 “others,” including a driver calling a woman and threatening to “cut her throat” for cancelling a ride request, a Boston driver with a long history of driving arrests dragging two police officers behind his car, attempted abduction of a college girl, and multiple cases of repeat felons who pass security clearances. In Kansas City alone, there have been seven reported sexual assaults since 2014. For anyone keeping tally, that is a grand total of 16,024 reported violent incidents involving Uber.
Yet the root of the problem is in the way that Uber mishandles its customer relations, its public relations, and its corporate responsibility at every possible step of the way. If people say nothing, then there will be no reforms. Someone has to hold this immoral and dangerous company liable. The company is valued at somewhere between 18 and 41 billion dollars, yet they can’t improve their “security” system that is so broken it should be unlawful, even when they recently started charging every ride a $1 safety fee? If India can outlaw Uber after one assault, and Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and the Netherlands have outlawed the European version of UberX, then where is justice for the thousands of American women and men who have been assaulted? Although this is an issue which the data shows affects all genders, Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said it best: “Every woman has a right to a safe ride home from all for-hire transportation services and to expect that these same companies have properly vetted their drivers.”
Kalanick should undoubtedly resign, and Uber needs to undergo a complete safety overhaul or face the consequences.