Jason Brian Dalton, the Kalamazoo Killer, has been in the news lately due to his shooting rampage in Michigan. What makes his case stand out from other mass murderers is the fact that he is an Uber driver who picked up clients during the course of his killing spree. In the end, six people are dead and two were wounded.
The other day, I heard on the radio that with the rise of ride sharing apps, the apparent convenience of having a temporary chauffeur outweighs the desire for a personal vehicle for many young people.
I was taught to be paranoid and to never talk to strangers. I could probably count on my fingers the amount of times I made eye contact with the bus drivers in middle school and high school. I’ve never been in a taxi without my parents. Overall, I rarely use public transportation and when I do use it, it’s much more regulated than something like Uber.
I know that Uber does background checks and requires their employees to have a clean record. But the background check I’d want for a person I’m paying to drive me somewhere is different than the background check I’d want for someone I’d interact with in a less dangerous way.
I’ve carpooled with people I’ve known for only a few weeks, or days, but this still feels safer to me than Uber. At least with the people I carpooled with I knew on a level besides “driver” or “customer.” With Uber, the person you’re trusting with your life is one you know no better than a pizza delivery person, or a cashier at the grocery store. You know that someone trusted them enough to employ them, but you don’t know much about how they are on the job.
I don’t blame Uber for hiring a murderer. It seems like blaming a university for admitting a school shooter as a student. Sometimes these situations just aren’t foreseeable. It’s tragic that it happened, but not more tragic because it could have been prevented by Uber. It couldn’t have been prevented by Uber. This man already had a driver’s license, a car, firearms and a lack of mental stability before he went on a rampage and before he drove for the company.
In a CNN article about the killing, the area’s public safety chief describes Dalton as an “average Joe,” saying the killing was random and unforeseeable.
After Dalton was arrested, police found 15 guns in his house. I’m not sure why one man would need so many firearms, but obviously he was familiar with them. He didn’t buy them specifically to commit a shooting spree, and his neighbor shared in an interview that Dalton would be heard firing off rounds in his own backyard at the end of the day.
What’s significant is not that this man had so many firearms, but that he only recently became an Uber driver. He had a relatively high Uber rating of 4.73, but that doesn’t mean much for a driver who has only been with the company for a few weeks. For a company that hires employees remotely and conducts most of its business virtually, employee evaluations are obviously going to be less than thorough.
Still, I don’t think Uber is at fault. To most people, trusting a stranger is a personal assessment and not something to be outsourced to a company. I don’t have a Facebook, but I doubt it’s common for individuals to accept friend requests from complete strangers. Junk mail that isn’t sent to the junk folder is deleted, and the email provider isn’t blamed for the spam. Uber puts individuals in a state of more physical vulnerability in a way that’s less easily ignored. Passengers should think that through before entering a car with someone they’ve never met, no matter how positive their online rating is.
According to a statement by Uber, “no means of transportation can ever be 100 percent safe. Accidents and incidents do happen.” In this case, though, the issue was not the vehicle, but the operator. Similarly, no strange individual can be 100 percent trusted. Dalton could have been an Uber driver for a year and still snapped out of nowhere. The question is whether or not being an Uber driver was an incidental addition to his shooting spree, or part of a plan.