Beware your next Uber driver, a complete stranger

I get it, it’s been a long night, and you made the responsible decision not to drive yourself out to Mill Avenue, but it’s really late, and the bars are closing. How are you going to get home? Roommates? No, they're asleep. Mom? No… She doesn’t need to see you like this. 

Oh! Uber! That handy dandy little app you have in your phone that gets a driver to you in ten minutes or less. Seems harmless, right?

Wrong. I hate to break it to you, but Uber should not be your go-to designated driver. Why? Stranger danger is not a myth created by our parents to keep us from straying too far from the front yard — It is a real issue.

Unfortunately, a district attorney in Boston had to learn the hard way that Uber drivers are in fact unknown, and sometimes unqualified, strangers. On an Uber ride to her home in December 2014, former driver Alejandro Done, 46, raped, kidnapped and attempted to strangle an elected official in the backseat of his car.

Now that Uber is present in 50 different countries, and provides approximately one million rides a day, it is safe to assume that this conviction is terrifying for many people. This woman got into a car owned by a man that was said to have passed a background check, and earned his right to tote the company’s name. However, few know that becoming an Uber driver really isn't that hard.

Uber drivers must pass a background check that only investigates records seven years back, and only identifies convictions as an issue. Both arrests and accusations are completely ignored. There is no formal interview, there is no in-person training, drivers just have to have a license, be 21 and have not gone to jail for DUI, murder or sexual assault in the last seven years. 

However, if they drank and drove, killed or raped 8 years ago, they’re still good to go. Uber believes “that seven years strikes the right balance between protecting the public while also giving ex-offenders the chance to work and rehabilitate themselves." Sorry, Uber, you’re wrong.

In this particular situation, the driver even applied using a fake name. In turn, this man’s license, insurance and background check had to be incorrect or falsified entirely. This slid right by the company because they do not mandate a fingerprint, which is a vital identification technique utilized in the hiring processes of many public service companies.

Uber’s lenient hiring process has been a topic of discussion since its founding, and the government is even considering intervening to ensure higher levels of safety for passengers. 

While I am not typically a huge proponent of government intervention within businesses, Uber’s background-check discrepancies can be blamed for several incidents of assault on passengers, and stricter regulation of drivers is Uber’s only potential saving grace. No, the company cannot be blamed entirely for the actions of its independent contractors, but it can be blamed for the lack of human regard demonstrated in their business model. 

Honestly, if Uber must stay I would hope the company enforces stricter rules, and maybe even introduces dashboard surveillance cameras to all drivers’ vehicles. Technological advances should never be stifled, but our laws need to keep pace with our world’s innovations. As of now, Uber safety cannot be even remotely guaranteed. Until then, I will be deleting my app, and I advise you do the same. 

Related Links:

Tempe Police: Intoxicated man punches Uber driver who refused to drive him

Cheap, easy transportation alternatives for students


Reach the columnist at kendra.penningroth@asu.edu or follow @KPenningroth on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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