To call ridesharing companies “disruptive” no longer seems apt—rather, they are the transportation industry now. While traditional taxi companies continue to operate, Uber and Lyft took the gig economy and transformed it into an engine of profit and social change. Unfortunately, that rapid pace of change came with many growing pains—often through poor oversight of drivers and lax background checks. These shortcomings led to many high-profile stories questioning the safety of rideshares.
In late June 2022, Uber released a comprehensive “safety report” covering 2019 and 2020 to showcase the progress it has made on safety. Uber claimed a 38% decrease in sexual assaults from their prior 2017-2018 report, saying that only “0.00002%” of all rides resulted in a rape allegation. Drivers committed the majority, about 57%, of these offenses. The report indicates that road fatalities increased—although Uber is quick to point to NHTSA data, which notes traffic fatalities rose nationwide in 2020.
While Uber touts its safety “accomplishments” and generates PR about its in-app safety features, its legal woes continue. Less than a month after the release of the safety report, a group of women filed suit against the company in California. The five plaintiffs allege that Uber has known about a serious sexual assault problem for nearly a decade, stretching back to 2014—and, they say, the company did nothing for years to reduce the risk faced by riders. The lawyers representing the plaintiffs suggest they have a further 550 claims.
Uber has drawn attention to several specific numbers, such as the hundreds of thousands of driver-applicants who failed an Uber background check and were not given a contract. Likewise, the company notes that more than 80,000 drivers received bans from driving after raising red flags through the company’s usage of ongoing criminal monitoring.
To be sure, these are important tools that any business in virtually any industry can use to help protect the company and the public from harm. However, they aren’t silver bullets—they can’t stop someone without a record or warning signs from committing a crime.
Understanding what background checks can and cannot do must form the basis of the policies that companies use to protect others. Uber may point out its “safety toolkit”, but it took years to add safety features to its app. The company might tout a declining rate of assaults and a “99.9%” rate for safe rides, but there are still several thousand assaults and rapes committed in Uber vehicles every year.
While eliminating crime may be an impossibility, there is still room to improve. The new lawsuit Uber faces may take years to resolve, or it could proceed to settlement—but its existence reveals an important takeaway: there are still risks to rideshares, and the companies overseeing these drivers must do more to protect the public.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.