Don't blame Uber for the Kalamazoo shooting

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By Sanaa Khan

Jason Dalton, an Uber driver, spent his Saturday evening in Kalamazoo, Michigan picking up and dropping off passengers; however, within that same seven-hour period on Feb. 20, Dalton, who had no criminal history, shot and killed six people and injured two others.

The lack of connections among his victims, including a mother of three, a father and son, a group of senior citizens and a 14-year-old girl, depict the random nature of the rampage, with no motive currently known. Although his crimes were deliberate, Dalton’s victims were as much strangers to him as they are to the public.

When your “average Joe” from a “typical American family,” according to Dalton’s neighbors, commits a crime as haphazard but as cold-blooded as this, it seemingly pressures the public to place blame on something or someone. In this case, the blame goes to Uber.

Dalton passed the service’s seven-year prior background check. But this policy could lead to a loophole in which someone released from prison ten years ago could then pass Uber’s background check. But, again, Dalton not only passed the seven-year background check, but did not have any criminal history whatsoever.

With no criminal history, no background check could have prevented Dalton, now facing charges of murder and assault, from being hired. Yet with a new era of million-dollar companies simply based on software applications inviting strangers into our lives, concerns regarding personal safety are valid.

Background checks are by no means perfect, with many private company databases being out of date or incomplete. So most often, background checks are simply used as a tool in addition to other verification methods such as checking past employment and conducting an in-person interview. However, with hiring processes such as the one used by Uber, there is no in-person interview, so any red flags that might be raised through interaction are missed.

Seven years is not nearly long enough to thoroughly vet a driver. Third party providers like Uber need to strengthen their background check to account for areas where background information is limited, strengthen its sexual offender database and build in more overall safety protocols. Background checks, as complex as they are, unfortunately aren’t enough to prevent tragedies like the one in Michigan.

Uber gives more than 2 million rides per day to customers across America. The newfound “gig economy,” where third party companies connect the customer to the carrier, brings with it new concerns about personal safety. Be it Uber putting taxi services out of business or Airbnb competing against international chain hotels like Hilton suites, there’s an added liability when interacting with a stranger.

Uber’s terms and conditions require customers to “agree that the entire risk arising out of (their) use of the services remains solely with (customers).” Customers should weigh the benefits of using Uber with the inherent risk of trusting a stranger to drive them around. https://www.uber.com/legal/usa/terms

That’s not to say the liability falls on the consumer for taking the “risk” of an Uber ride along with its convenience and affordability.

Companies like Uber have the responsibility to ensure personal safety to their customers just as any typical business would. Unique from the average taxi service, retail store or bed and breakfast, “gig” companies should still comply, if not more so, with the same legal and due diligence standards currently regulating their competition.

In the case where no amount of security and background checks could have foretold Dalton’s shooting spree, Uber is not to blame. There’s no way to predict a random act of violence such as the one committed by Dalton, but this incident should still shine a light on Uber’s insufficient safety policy.

Sanaa is a freshman in Business. [email protected]