Another Uber driver questioned for sexual assault. How safe is Uber, really?

A sexual assault report in Ohio marks the latest chapter in Uber's safety saga. But a lack of official data is making it difficult to investigate just how safe the app really is.

(Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)
An Uber driver's smartphone app on a vehicle en route to Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia.

Police in Avon, Ohio, said Thursday that a driver for the popular ride-sharing service Uber has been accused of sexually assaulting one of his passengers.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is currently reviewing a sexual assault kit to send to a grand jury, which will decide if charges should be filed, according to ABC5 News. A detective told the station that the driver is cooperating with the investigation and agreed to come in for questioning.

As the app continues to grow both in popularity and controversy, the incident marks the latest headline in a collection of stories raising questions about the safety of Uber and its hiring practices.

“How dangerous is Uber compared with a taxi or limousine?” asked The Atlantic in March. “Such incidents seem frighteningly common now.”

A Boston police spokesperson said there is no data to compare reports against Uber drivers with, say, taxi drivers or limo drivers, reports the magazine. “This is meaningful because it underscores how the narrative about ridesharing and public safety is largely anecdotal.”

Unless official figures come together, all the public has to rely on are pieces of the puzzle. Who’s Driving You, a public awareness campaign launched by the national Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association (TLPA), lists 31 sexual assault claims involving Uber drivers on its website since 2013, with the garnering of reports filed around the world.

The group says both Uber and Lyft “undercut for-hire vehicle safety – via inadequate insurance, background checks and more.”

In response to high-profile sexual assault cases in Boston and Chicago last year, in January the company added verification features to prevent customers from getting into the wrong car, reports Car Connection.

Uber has also vehemently defended its hiring practices, saying its background checks “cover courthouse records, county, state, and federal records.

“Unlike the taxi industry, our background checking process and standards are consistent across the United States and often more rigorous than what is required to become a taxi driver,” spokesman Taylor Bennett told The Atlantic.

But prosecutors say some drivers on the app have been “convicted of murder, sexual assault, driving under the influence and other felonies,” reports Bay City News.

Looking at the records of Uber drivers who have been issued citations by airport police in San Francisco and Los Angeles and by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Bandit Cab unit, district attorneys in those cities found “more than 25 Uber drivers who had criminal records or driving records that disqualified them from driving for Uber,” they told Bay City News.

The San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorneys’ offices filed a joint complaint against Uber last month, saying that the company’s statements that it runs checks of its applicants using the National Sex Offender Registry “are false, because that particular database is available only to law enforcement personnel.”

“Uber uses the National Sex Offender Public Website, which does not detect registered sex offenders such as certain California offenders convicted of child pornography offenses,” according to Bay City News.

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