48 Investigates: Uber driver background checks raise concerns - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

48 Investigates: Uber driver background checks raise concerns

(Source: WAFF) (Source: WAFF)

Uber rolled into Huntsville with a lot of buzz earlier this month.

But headlines across other Uber cities are now questioning the background checks done on its drivers.

One group even suggests it's a matter of time before an Uber driver commits a violent crime right here in Huntsville.

Uber prides itself on its website as being the "easiest way to get around at the tap of a button."

Over the last few weeks many across Huntsville have used the ride-share app to venture out or head home.

While Huntsville Uber drivers have been cashing in on the new craze, Uber drivers in other cities are crashing into the headlines.

"If you're going to use Uber, then be careful," said Dave Sutton.  

Sutton is the spokesperson for Who's Driving You?. The organization represents 1,000 transportation companies including taxi and limousine services.

They're Uber's competition and Sutton doesn’t shy away from that fact while explaining his organization tracks crimes committed by Uber drivers.

"They're under cutting safety," said Sutton.

According to his organization and media reports, the following all occurred in January of this year:

?According to Sutton, it’s just the tip of the iceberg and places the blame on how Uber drivers are screened.

"Police should look at their background checks and should do so with finger print based criminal background checks. The company doesn't do that. They have private companies look at the driver's history and those private companies and those private background checks are missing things,” said Sutton.

We confirmed through Huntsville city leaders that Uber is conducting all background checks for its local drivers and the Huntsville Police Department has no involvement.

Sutton also put some of the blame of the screening process on a company called CheckR. The San Francisco company does vetting and background checks for Uber.

We have confirmed that's who checked at least some and possibly all of Huntsville's Uber drivers.

"CheckR is a private company. It can't look at an individual’s history in the same way that government can. The second thing to know is this, CheckR can only go back seven years in an individual's history," said Sutton.

"The first night I actually drove for three hours and I made $60 and I was hooked,” said Uber driver Jeremy Wenger.

He called it an addiction. Wenger also works as an Uber driver recruiter.

He just launched the website UberHSV.com in an effort to find new drivers in the Tennessee Valley.

According to him, it is a third-party platform and he doesn't work for the corporate office. We asked him about the recent reports and was quick to defend the company and its background checks.

"It's not an Uber problem,” said Wenger. “It's a human problem."

Wenger took us on a drive around Murfreesboro earlier this week after he'd finished his Uber shift. He had critical things to say about Who's Driving You and their request to have law enforcement conduct background checks into Uber drivers.

"So are they going to increase the police departments pay raise personally? Are they going to help man that? Are they going to facilitate a way to help with their responsibilities on top of everything they're doing right now? Three questions and I guarantee you all of them will be no," said Wenger.

We called Who's Driving You to check on that self-proclaimed guarantee.

Their spokesperson said Wenger is both right and wrong.

According to the organization, police checks for Uber drivers could be funded by processing fees paid by Uber, the driver applicant, or a combination of both.

The organization said they aren't going to help staff it because they're not the police.

Finally, they said according to reports, police have spent a great deal of time attempting to work with Uber to track down offending drivers.

It's hard to contact Uber; the company can't be reached easily by phone. Having an Uber driver's fingerprints and criminal history on file would greatly reduce police time and resources spent locating the offending driver if a harmful incident should occur.

On camera Sutton couldn’t stress enough how concerned he is about a Huntsville rider getting attacked.

"It's absolutely a ticking time bomb," said Sutton.

But Wenger said Uber's background checks are certainly sufficient. He trusts them and stands by the company.

"When a background check goes through it's looking at your history and not your future," said Sutton.

He said people really don't need to worry the next time they tap that button.

A few days ago, an Uber spokesperson told The Atlantic magazine ten percent of Boston taxi drivers who took Uber's background check failed.

Since last week we’ve sent multiple emails to an Uber employee at their corporate office in San Francisco. It's the same person we spoke to when Uber was gearing up for its Huntsville launch.

But unlike a few weeks ago when they were starting up he hasn't returned any of those six emails.

Uber does have a safety section on its website and lists some of the safety commitments they've made.

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