Uber Remains in the Spotlight for Spotty Safety Policies

Ever since ridesharing apps exploded onto the scene a decade ago, their "disruption" has not remained limited to only the effect on the traditional taxi industry. In the rush to be the biggest and best in a highly competitive global market, many companies cut corners, bent and broke laws, and ultimately put driver and rider safety at risk over many years. Uber, especially in the chaotic years under bomb-throwing CEO Travis Kalanick, has one of the most checkered safety records in the tech industry.

Headlines about assaults and even murders have plagued the company for years as it has worked to shore up its safety procedures and improve the way it checks driver records. Past lawsuits, such as one in California in 2015, alleged that the company's background checks were so lax that they hired individuals with prior convictions for murder and rape. For many years, the company's goal was growth at any cost—and rider safety suffered.

A recent dump of a trove of internal Uber documents by a former executive reveals how aggressive Uber was in its expansion. From working closely with politicians behind the scenes (and in some cases making financial contributions) to ignoring local laws and regulations, there were few lines the company wouldn't cross.

Even with leadership changes and a pivot towards stronger safety messaging, problems remain. Uber does not automatically report allegations of sexual assault during rides to police, saying that "advocacy groups" advised that victims should instead self-report. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a recently launched class action lawsuit against Uber claims to represent more than 500 women who experienced assault during rides.

While avoiding comments on the litigation itself, Uber maintains that it has already changed and strengthened its policies. The company does continue to add new safety features to its apps, though their impact remains to be seen. Executives also point to the fact that alongside criminal background checks, the company orders a motor vehicle report on every prospective driver to check for safety. Re-screening takes place annually, leaving some questions about what happens if a driver becomes a criminal offender between re-screening periods.

Although a thorough MVR report and criminal background check are essential steps to ensure safety in hiring, a spotless driving record has little to do with whether someone may commit an assault. Whether the company's vetting procedures remain as lax as they were in the past is unclear, though Uber's own reporting statistics point to a decline in assaults and other crimes committed by drivers.

Uber has undoubtedly taken steps to improve safety—though often, these efforts have come late and in the wake of controversy. With a history of bending the rules and caring more about profits than drivers or riders, it's not surprising that many take Uber's public statements with a grain of salt. Though the company may be on the road to improving its prior stances toward safety, it is clear there is still much work to be done. 

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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