Uber: No background-check change after Michigan rampage

Uber said Monday that it will likely not change its system for screening would-be drivers despite a spree killing allegedly committed by one of its drivers that left six people dead in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Saturday.

Uber officials repeatedly noted during a conference call with reporters that accused killer Jason Brian Dalton, 45, had no criminal record that could have warned the ride-hailing company he was a threat.

Dalton, who a prosecutor said Monday admitted committing the slayings, allegedly shot his victims in between driving passengers for Uber.

Jason Brian Dalton, Uber driver and accused killer

"None of the things that we did do in this case, if we made them somehow better, would have made any difference," said Joe Sullivan, Uber's chief security officer, during a call with reporters. "There were no red flags, if you will, that we could anticipate things like this."

Ed Davis, a former Boston police commissioner who sits on Uber's safety advisory board, said, "A background check is just that — it does not foresee the future."

Sullivan said Uber is "devastated" by the killings in Michigan.

Sullivan said Dalton had a generally favorable rating as an Uber driver for the 100 or so fares he handled after passing his background check on Jan. 25. Dalton's rating by customers was 4.73, with a rating of 5 being the highest.

Uber officials also said they had no plans to add fingerprint requirements for would-be drivers, saying that its criminal background checks were rigorous enough to uncover past law-breaking.

They also said that relying on fingerprint databases could lead to discrimination against would-be drivers, in cases where someone was arrested and booked by police, but never convicted of a crime.

Currently, the company requires applicants to submit their name, address, Social Security number, driver's license, insurance information, and bank account number when they apply online. Uber than checks the applicant's name and addresses dating back seven years to local, county and federal criminal court records.

Uber indicated it does not plan, for now, to introduce a "panic button" on its ride-hailing app in the United States, despite having rolled out such a feature in India last year in response to several rapes. The panic button alerts Uber, and sometimes law enforcement authorities, of problems riders are having with a driver.

"From my perspective, 911 is the panic button in the United States," Sullivan said. Officials said 911 is preferable to a panic button because local authorities can respond to an incident involving an Uber driver faster than the company can.

Sullivan said that several riders on Saturday who rode with Dalton had contacted Uber about his reckless driving, with at least one of those people contacting 911.

Sullivan said that if a driver is accused by a rider of being violent, the driver is immediately suspended from handling fares. He said that complaints of erratic driving are investigated by Uber before any action is taken.

Dalton was ordered held without bail Monday after being charged with six counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and eight felony firearms charges.

"I would prefer just to remain silent," Dalton told a judge, while appearing via a live feed from Kalamazoo County Jail.

Lobbying groups and unions, in particular, have demanded fingerprinting and better background checks for Uber drivers.

The Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association, which represents more than 1,000 professional licensed taxi and limo companies nationwide, has created a lobbying group called Who's Driving You? which advocates for what it calls a level playing field for its members and Uber drivers.

"Government-conducted criminal background checks that include fingerprinting are the only way that you can truly see an individual's criminal history," Who's Driving You? spokesman Dave Sutton said. "Private background checks that use names cannot access an individual's full criminal history. In addition, people can sign up with fake names and then the background check is completely worthless."

Uber New York
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

New York City may be unique in demanding fingerprinting for Uber drivers.

New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission conducts Department of Motor Vehicle and criminal background checks according to the commission's licensing standards.

TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg told CNBC he believes New York is the only city in the U.S. that requires Uber drivers to be fingerprinted. Drivers for all app-based ride-hailing and -sharing start-ups are fingerprinted and drug tested, as are traditional taxi and limo drivers, he said.

"New York City is very unique in that we have absolutely not made any special exceptions for them," Fromberg said. "We fingerprint based on the gold standard. In our instance this enables us to have 24/7 ongoing monitoring, meaning if one of our licensees is arrested whether its on-duty or off-duty we find out immediately."