Uber’s background check system comes into question

By Jenny Jiao, ’16 and Maeve O’Brien, ’16

On Dec. 20, an intoxicated woman fell asleep in the back seat of an Uber in Chicago, and woke up being sexually assaulted by her driver in his apartment, according to the Chicago Tribune. On Feb. 8, a woman was indecently touched several times by an Uber driver in Boston and charged him with indecent assault and battery, according to the Boston Police Dept. And on Aug. 2, an Uber driver groped and asked for a kiss from his customer in Arlington, VA, according to the Washington Post.

These are just a few of the incidents that have occurred with Uber drivers as the service becomes more and more popular.

Due to events like these, Uber’s background check system has come under harsh scrutiny.

Uber claims their background check system is not only on par with that of the taxi industry, but even more rigorous.

Currently, Uber uses an online background check through a company called HireEase that does not include fingerprinting, according to its website. In addition to basic personal and vehicle information, their background check reviews the criminal histories of drivers in the past seven years, but not further back. In addition, a check may include a review of the Motor Vehicle Registration associated with the license plate, which reveals speeding and moving violations. However, this part is not always a standard part of the check.

Many criticize Uber because it does not account for convictions, including DUIs, that date further back than seven years.

Uber’s defense is that no background check system is 100 percent accurate, and points out several flaws of the taxi industry’s checks.

However, many students who uses Uber, like senior Madeline Fleming , feel safe.

A survey conducted by Arlingtonian reveals that 54 percent of students feel Uber is safe to use. Fourteen percent do not believe Uber is safe, while 32 percent are undecided.

Fleming echoed the sentiments of many students.

“From my experiences being in an Uber, whether it is very late at night or in the day, all the drivers I have had have been very nice,” Fleming said. “I have never felt unsafe.”

In addition, Fleming said she believed Uber’s background checks are extensive.

Cooper provides another rationale for trusting Uber.

“I do think it’s safe,” Cooper said. “On the app, you have access to your driver’s name and you can always see the car’s location. If anything were to happen, the location would be known.”

However, UA Police Officer Jon Rice remains suspicious of the effectiveness of Uber’s background checks.

“I know that all local taxi and transport companies are licensed, bonded, and require background checks,” Rice said. “All services are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.”

Rice also asserts that the setup can create a very dangerous environment for people who are young, alone, or intoxicated.

“The likelihood of a sexual assault is high and prosecutions are few. Without witnesses and physical evidence, it’s difficult to prosecute a crime especially when the victim was too intoxicated to remember anything.” Rice said.

As both the public and law enforcement further inquire about the safety of drivers, Uber will need to quell the current concerns, or adjust its system of screening drivers.