The recent shootings in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, have raised questions about Uber and background checks.
A source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN that Jason Brian Dalton may have picked up passengers and dropped them off during the hours-long shooting spree. Uber released a statement saying Dalton had passed a background check. The company said it's assisting police with the investigation.
**Read more: Bail denied for Michigan shooting spree suspect
It's not the only time Uber has been linked to controversy. Maybe you heard about actor Kevin Smith’s daughter nearly being abducted by someone posing as an Uber driver. Or maybe you read about the Uber driver who allegedly aimed a gun at a passenger. Perhaps officials in your city have been wary about giving the tech-age ridesharing service the green light.
However you’ve heard about Uber, controversy may have been a part of what you heard, even if safety wasn’t an issue. Traditional taxicab drivers have waged a tough fight to prevent Uber and similar services from gaining a foothold in cities big and small as a means of squashing unwanted competition.
But convenience has typically prevailed. People want services like Uber because passengers love that they can arrange rides on their phones via the Internet. As Uber puts it, tap a button, get a ride. They don’t have to stand on a corner and hope a taxi passes (and then decides to stop).
Of course Smith and his daughter, actress Harley Quinn Smith, would probably now say the convenience factor is overrated.
They say she ordered an Uber car earlier this month for a ride from a Starbucks location in Los Angeles, California. When a car arrived with a photo copy of the Uber logo hastily attached, Harley began talking to the drivers and said it was clear they were impostors.
Uber spokeswoman Faryl Ury declined to comment on the record to HLN about Smith's incident. But in response to questions about the event, she suggested that Uber's built-in safety features essentially pre-empt the possibility that riders will board a vehicle that isn't actually driven by an Uber driver.
"All Uber riders see right away the make and model of the car picking them up, as well as the name of the driver, his or her star rating, and the license plate of the car," she said when asked about Smith.
Uber and other ridesharing services are slowly expanding to cities around the globe. Sooner or later, everyone is going to take Uber or something like it. Here are some tips for staying safe while using Uber, Lyft or other ridesharing services.
Tip No. 1: Don’t ride upfront, no matter what the driver says
That tip comes courtesy of a public safety initiative launched by the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association. To be sure, it’s not in the group’s interests to promote Uber because ridesharing services are challenging taxicab monopolies. But spokesman Dave Sutton told HLN that it’s all about risk mitigation.
“People are going to use these companies anyway so yes we have some recommendations,” he told HLN.
He said passengers who ride upfront, and especially women, have found themselves on the receiving end of assaults, groping and other aggressive, unwanted behavior.
Tip No. 2: Wait inside your house or business until the driver arrives
That’s not too hard of a tip to follow with Uber.
“The Uber app automatically finds your location to provide door-to-door service. That means you stay safe and comfortable wherever you are until your driver arrives,” said Uber spokeswoman Faryl Ury.
No more waiting on the curb alone at night anymore, in other words.
She said it’s one of a number of inherent safety features that previously weren’t made available by traditional transportation companies.
Tip No. 3: Don’t take Uber if you’re really drunk
Sure, sure that’s actually when you think you NEED a ride from Uber because you don’t want to drive. But things can get out of hand, especially for women, when too much alcohol has been consumed.
As Sutton with the taxicab association puts it, “This is the business of strangers driving strangers.”
You can find a log of news reports about incidents involving Uber and Lyft drivers at the website of the taxicab association, which compiles the information.
Tip No. 4: Confirm your driver is the right one
Uber tells users to confirm your driver’s car model and license plate number through the Uber app before stepping into any vehicle.
Tip No. 5: Don’t ride alone and keep the transaction business-like
This tip may not be easy to follow, but it’s in response to incidents involving single individuals who, alone with a ridesharing service driver, have found things going terribly wrong.
When possible, don’t be the last person left in the vehicle when a group of friends headed different directions hires a ridesharing service.
And remember, the Uber driver isn’t your friend.
"Don’t be chatty,” Sutton said.
Millions of people are safely using Uber in more than 350 cities around the world, to name one service alone. More often than not, these safety tips may even seem like overzealous precautions.
As one commentator with the Cato Institute said, “As far as the future of ridesharing is concerned, the biggest risks to consumer welfare come not from safety issues but from politics."
But with many innovations come new risks. Why run them?