Not just blurring the safety line – erasing it

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High reliability organizations track even the smallest incidents, because they can predict that an increasing number of disabling injuries will eventually lead to a death.

My late husband worked in the chemical industry and was one of the most safety-conscious human beings that ever lived.

I recall vividly the time he told me how important it was to track D.I.s – Disabling Injuries. Even the most minor D.I.s were tracked on a centrally-maintained graph. He actually had to report an accident in which a co-worker smacked his thumb with a hammer while hanging a corkboard in his office.

“Why would you bother to track such trivial things?” I asked.

“Because, if over time you see a steadily increasing number of D.I.s, eventually there will be a death. Too many D.I.s mean there is a process problem that must be corrected before we reach that point.”

For most of the past year I’ve had the unenviable task of monitoring the worldwide media, reading stories about the Uber group of companies. As a member of Toronto’s taxi industry, it’s both daunting and depressing to follow the explosion in the number of non-professional drivers in their own unmarked cars pouring into the ground transportation industry in nations around the globe.

As a mother, it is horrifying for a completely different set of reasons.

Competition in business is nothing new; it is to be expected at all times, in all industries. However, the detachment from rationality and disregard for passenger safety being demonstrated by politicians, regulators and police when it comes to UberX services is something completely different. Decades of logical common sense and safety concerns are being cavalierly tossed aside in the rush for lower fares and nifty iPhone apps.

Every parent living has told their kids, “Don’t get in cars with strangers.” The line between what was considered safe and unsafe was clear, vivid, impermeable and reinforced constantly.

Fast forward to 2016, and that line has become blurred past all recognition – virtually eliminated, actually, thanks to UberX. Passengers are climbing in to the personal cars of UberX drivers who are unlicensed and not subject to regulated background checks. In Toronto right now, there are three UberX drivers charged with sexual assault who are still at large. Police had to appeal to the public to find the man charged in September as Uber apparently couldn’t provide his last name.*

Before we could even wrap our minds around the frightening idea of drunk young women pouring themselves into UberX cars with questionable drivers, a whole new phenomenon arose: men who aren’t even UberX drivers PRETENDING to be UberX drivers in order to entice girls into their cars. In Texas, a man told two students he was an UberX driver whose fare had cancelled and asked them if they wanted a ride. They got into his car.

In Chicago, two men posing as UberX drivers robbed their fares.

In Washington DC, a young woman jumped into a car she believed was her UberX ride and was assaulted by the driver, who wielded a knife.

Gawker reports that in New York, having strangers climb into the wrong cars is becoming commonplace.

We’ve gone from one polar extreme to another, from “Never get in a car with a stranger” to “Get in any car with anyone.”

“Yeah, we were just talking about that,” a Toronto police officer mused to me last summer. “One of the guys asked, ‘What if the next Paul Bernardo is driving for Uber?’”

What if? In the thousands of articles I have read about Uber around the globe, every assault or robbery seems to me to be the equivalent of a D.I. – a Disabling Injury. And as my husband pointed out, “If over time you see a steadily increasing number of D.I.s, eventually there will be a death.”

More and more, I read, the person getting assaulted is the Uber driver – sadly supporting the taxi industry concern that in the whole Uber/UberX scenario, the person at highest risk is the Uber driver himself (or herself). 

Many, if not most, of the worst reports don’t even involve actual Uber drivers, but men posing as Uber drivers. Because we have erased the line between known and unknown, safe and unsafe, caution and carelessness, these men are having a field day.

There will be a death.


*Update: on October 13th media report this driver turned himself in to police, so there are only two at large now. 

5 days after i signed up for UBER I was 100% in love with it and i was kicking myself in the ass for all the money i wasted with beck.
Day 6 I accidently got into a uber that wasnt mine. It was 3am and pissing rain so he said I could just pay in cash. Ten mins into the ride I ask him if he can stop at a convenince store so i can pull out cash to pay him. He then turns around grabs my legs and says I can pay in other ways.
Obviously I got the fuck out of there.
Luckily i knew the person who originally had called that uber. I got the drivers info emailed uber several times. They just basically told me “we found him and have dealt with it but cant tell you any details whatsoever about the actions we will take to make sure this doesnt happen again”
NOT SKETCH AT ALL. Thanks for probably nothing!
I feel real great knowing that some drunk 16 year old girl will probably be in his car this weekend.
So great.

Michael Meehan

11 hrs ·

To the confused, rightfully-furious young man who asked who I was when I tried breaking into his car at 3 am at the Bathurst-Dundas McDonald’s because his car was the same make as my Uber driver’s, I apologize once again.