News Update: April 13, 2016 – Uber will pay at least $10 million to settle allegations that it misled passengers about the quality of its driver background checks. A district attorney in San Francisco, where Uber is based, led a lawsuit accusing Uber of falsely claiming it used the most comprehensive screening of would-be drivers available, citing that these checks did not include fingerprinting for past convictions.
Since its inception, ride-share services have revolutionized the way we get around. It seems like a win-win business model. Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft provide jobs for people with cars, help minimize an individual’s carbon footprint and lets you have a designated driver at your fingertips. All you need is a smartphone and a working debit or credit card.
These ride-share services hope that the informality of what are essentially taxi services will blossom into a bonafide social community of riders and drivers, creating new friendships and endless revenue. In order to realize this vision though, you need drivers who are charismatic and trustworthy.
Therein lies the trouble – how is a passenger to know how safe their Uber or Lyft driver truly is? The unfortunate reality is the people they hire aren’t always trustworthy. The complaints of ride-share sexual assault, battery, robbery, false impersonation, kidnapping and even death are so numerous, a website was created to alert consumers on where and when these incidents occur.
Both Uber and Lyft do require job applicants to submit to a background check, which allegedly includes cross-checking the sex offender registry and state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Lyft drivers in New York City are required to have a TLC taxi license, which fingerprints and requires drivers to take sex trafficking awareness training.
Uber in particular does not perform fingerprinting background checks, nor do they conduct face-to-face interviews with potential new hires. This is how unscrupulous characters fall through the cracks. These same drivers take advantage of unsuspecting, and often intoxicated young women (and men), sexually and physically assaulting them on their way home.
Complicating the matter is the fact that university students are regularly encouraged to download both ride-share and safety apps during new student orientation.
In November of 2015, a USC student was sexually assaulted by her Uber driver as she exited the car. The young woman escaped and used the LiveSafe app to notify campus police of the incident. The Los Angeles Police Department was notified immediately and the driver, who works for both Uber and Lyft, was later arrested.
Incidents like this are not isolated; sadly, they happen all the time.
Recently, Uber has been under fire for both its onboarding process for new hires, and their price gouging practices. On February 12th, Uber agreed to a $28.5 million settlement addressing complaints that the company misled consumers about both its fees and customer safety. This is only the first step in assuring that the company is held accountable for hiring practices that have endangered the public. Although the recent shooting spree by an Uber driver on Saturday, February 20 in Michigan is only a sad reminder of how much remains to be done for public safety.
Uber’s Code of Conduct does not make it absolutely clear that sexual assault is an illegal act of violence that will not be tolerated by either the company or the law. The code states, “Furthermore, commenting on appearance, asking overly personal questions and making unwanted physical contact is inappropriate.” What should be stressed is that unwanted sexually aggressive physical contact is illegal and prosecutable by law.
When citizens make a conscious effort not to engage in reckless behavior, like drinking and driving, and then are attacked by a driver they’re supposed to be able to trust – it can feel like you’re being punished for making good choices.
Even when companies use a thorough background check for hiring employees that includes fingerprinting, and cross-checking with the Department of Justice and the national sex offender registry, you should never blindly trust your Uber or Lyft driver. Especially when you are under the influence.
Austin Police Chief, Art Avecedo, advised young women, “You should never feel 100% safe. More importantly, don’t be publicly intoxicated – it makes you a target for people who want to take advantage of you. I can tell you in 29 years of policing, people who are apt to commit a crime look for easy targets.”
In addition to the officer’s advice, you can better protect yourself if you:
- Never sit in the front seat of a ride-share vehicle, unless the car is full and then be wary.
- Let a friend know when you’re in the car or phone them during the ride.
- Have someone check on you once you get home.
Plenty of safety apps have these features built in, which can make it easier for you to alert your loved ones when faced with imminent danger.
We at The Pride Law Firm believe in holding organizations, as well as individuals, accountable for wrongful and negligent conduct that harms others. Over the years, we have empowered numerous survivors of sexual assault by helping them reclaim their lives.
The safety of the public from sexual offenders is of our highest concerns. We hope you never need us, but if you or someone you love has been sexually assaulted, we will fight for justice on your behalf.