Have you ever heard Uber? It is the wildly popular and successful ride-sharing company that is seen by many as a hallmark of the new social-media age. For those whom might not know what Uber is or have never used the service before, Uber is a smartphone app that connects people who need a ride with those who have a car and are willing to drive for a commission. The intent, and indeed the appeal, of the app is to basically “cut out” the middleman (taxis) to make traveling easier and more convenient for both driver and passenger alike. I personally have used Uber a number of times myself, and found that the experience was similar to that of getting a ride from a coworker or acquaintance. It may seem like such a useful and easy to use service is too good to be true, and unfortunately that is increasingly appearing to be the case.
Training to become an Uber driver consists entirely of watching a less than 15 minute long training video on YouTube. Training to become a taxi driver in many cities and states requires multiple hours of classes and certification, as well as vehicle inspections to ensure the safety of the taxi cab and the riders inside. It is incredibly easy to become an Uber driver, as the only real requirements are to possess a car, a driver’s license, and a smart phone. Uber does run their applicants information though a third-party criminal background checker, however this background check only looks at a person’s name, address, and SSN against a variety of databases. Uber’s background check doesn’t look at any fingerprint databases and their search into criminal records only goes back seven years.
Such half measures in regard for people’s safety, both for passengers and drivers themselves, leaves many opportunities for potentially dangerous people to slip “between the cracks”. However this isn’t some hypothetical problem for the future, but a very real danger now. A review of Uber drives in Los Angles this past August showed that 4 drivers for the company had criminal records including child exploitation, identity theft, manslaughter, and a DUI. There have been other reported cased of Uber drivers stalking former passengers and one of an Uber driver having possession of pictures of a passenger taken before that passenger ever entered the vehicle.
But this month provides perhaps one of the most shocking examples of the danger Uber poses is the murder of 6 people in Michigan this month by an Uber driver. The accused murder, Jason Dalton of Kalamazoo, went on a murder spree February 20th, killing 6 and critically injuring 2 others. Apparently, Dalton gave Uber rides and collected fare before he started his killings that night and between the 1st and 2nd murders. Ironically, the Daltons mid-spree passengers decide to take an Uber home because they heard about the shootings on the news. While it would be unfair to categorize all Uber drivers with the evil acts of Jason Dalton, the fact that this was possible, due to his use of personal car and limited Uber oversight, is what’s so troubling.
If you or your friends decide to use Uber, we recommend a few safety tips. First, never have an Uber driver pick you up or drop you off at your house. If possible asked to be dropped off or picked up at a neighbor’s house a few doors down or at the head of the street, and then walk home after they have driven off. When you are in the car, never sit in the front. Never find yourself too distracted by your phone or conversation to not be able to keep an eye on where the car is going or if you seem to be heading off course. If you find yourself in conversation with the driver, keep the topics general and never give up personal information. Lastly, never seem overly cautious or nervous, as this could cause the driver to become worried about you. Using common-sense thinking, you can keep yourself safe in these kinds of situations. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t it just be easier to call a cab?