Uber shootings send shockwaves from Michigan to Florida

uber driverHorrific shootings in Michigan that police say were carried out by an Uber driver  have again put public safety in the headlights as key elements of bills to regulate ride-hailing services remain unresolved in Florida’s waning legislative session

“I don’t think we will change our screening process,” said Joe Sullivan, chief security officer at Uber, in a conference call Monday. “No background check process would have flagged or anticipated this situation.”

Jason Brian Dalton had no criminal record and passed a company background check in January, and had a high star rating (4.73) with more than 100 rides before the day of the incident, Uber officials said.

As for rider reports of erratic driving the day of the shootings Saturday, company officials said they are deferring to law enforcement on the exact timeline of what the company knew and when.

Authorities charged Dalton on Monday with six counts of murder, two counts of assault with intent to commit murder and eight firearms charges.

Police say for seven hours on Saturday, the shooter carried out what appeared to be random killings at several locations, apparently picking up passengers in between.

His motivation remains unclear.

Uber continues to study ways to enhance safety but has no plans to introduce in the United States a “panic” button for riders it has tried in India, company officials said.

“In the U.S., 911 is the panic button,” Sullivan said.

In Florida, legislators are trying to settle on statewide standards for ride-hailing services after failing to reach a consensus a year ago.

It probably “wouldn’t have helped” in this particular case to require fingerprint checks, as opposed to the “name check” Uber uses, acknowledged state Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg, on Monday. The shooter apparently had no prior criminal record to find. But she believes fingerprint checks could help in other cases.

Peters pushed for required fingerprint checks across Florida the past two years, successfully so in a House amendment last year on a bill that ultimately stalled. A similar amendment failed on a bill the House has passed this session after Uber and allies pushed back.

“I just don’t feel we should compromise the level of public safety we’ve already established” for other roles including teachers, coaches and bus drivers, Peters said in debate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said studies support as “more effective” the annual checks his bill requires across multiple jurisdictions including a sex-offender registry — much like what Uber already performs. Gaetz made the case that Florida should encourage innovative companies and not overload them with regulations, giving all 20 million residents access.

Other pieces of the puzzle remain unresolved between the two chambers. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version allows local governments to control issues besides insurance requirements. That means cities and counties could set more rigorous standards for background checks if they wish, thought it remains to be seen if calls for local control will rise in the wake of the Michigan shootings. The bill has yet to pass the full Senate as time winds down in a session scheduled to end March 11.

Senate President Andy Gardiner’s office had no comment Monday through a spokeswoman on the Michigan shooting’s impact. In contrast to those in House, Senate bills have generally been more sympathetic to arguments from the taxi industry that Uber and other “transportation network companies” are getting an unfair regulatory advantage at the expense of public safety.

“We hope that Uber and TNCs across the country will take the vetting of drivers seriously and start putting public safety over profits,” said Neil Schiller, attorney for Yellow Cab of Palm Beach County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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