Following Kalamazoo tragedy, Uber faces questions about its driver vetting process

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As Michigan begins its long healing process in the days after the Kalamazoo tragedy, our nation as a whole has been forced (yet again) to grapple with a number of recurring debates. Out of loss, it seems, must come some sense of learning to provide some small hope that lives were not lost in vain. While the gun control argument is one that we’ve heard a thousand times, a newer and perhaps more unique question now being raised lies in the Uber vetting process. Uber has showed no signs of slowing in terms of its almost meteoric rise to the top of the transportation industry, and as it grows larger, provides more rides, and hires more drivers, a very serious issue now stands — how well do we know the people whose cars we so willingly (and so frequently) enter?

Jason Dalton, the 45-year-old man responsible for the devastating attacks in Michigan, was revealed to be a driver for Uber Technologies Inc., spurring new interest in the company’s review process for its employees. This is by no means the first time the San Francisco-based startup has received flack for its seemingly lax driver guidelines — reports of assault, rape, and otherwise have been noted for years, both in the United States and internationally.

While Uber says that it is fully cooperating with the police’s investigation, the company has maintained that its “safety protocol is robust and adequate.” And on Monday, Uber’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan noted that the company had no plans to change the way it vets its drivers as a result of the tragedy.

“If there is nothing on someone’s record, no background check will raise a red flag,” Sullivan said on a media conference call. Indeed, Uber’s Rachel Whetstone told People Magazine, “[Dalton] had no criminal background so nothing would have turned up for him during the background check he passed. Unfortunately, this man just decided to go and do what he did. It is hard to know how to deal with these people who go rogue.”

But some believe that it is, in fact, Uber’s responsibility to ensure that its drivers do not, as Whetstone says, “go rogue,” resulting in the consequences involving human life. Or at the very least, that Uber must somehow do better in determining who among its vast employee base has a greater chance of erratic and violent behavior.

Other critics have noted that Uber’s background check policy is not nearly as robust as it could be. Not only does Uber “never meet (drivers) in person to see if they get a strange vibe,” according to Who’s Driving You spokesman Dave Sutton, but neither Uber nor Lyft actually have a fingerprint check in place.

“This driver was acting irrationally and operating his vehicle erratically … in the hours leading up to and between these senseless shootings,” said Gary Buffo, the president of the National Limousine Association. And whether a more robust background check system — whether that means in-person interviews or more record-checking — could’ve saved lives, we’ll simply never know.


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