How Many Drivers Have To Die Before Uber Allows Them To Defend Themselves?

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

You may have missed the news about the murder of Joe Schelstraete last week. The national media’s been largely silent, though the local media has been pretty good about reporting on the 38-year old father of three who was brutally murdered behind the wheel of his car in the Chicago suburb of Cicero; the latest rideshare driver to lose his life while working for a company that doesn’t allow drivers to be legally armed, even in their own vehicles.

Police believe that Schelstraete was the victim of an attempted carjacking, and one juvenile has been arrested, though police believe at least three other suspects are still at large. According to authorities, the intersection where Schelstraete was shot was also the site of another attempted carjacking a few weeks ago. In that case, the victim managed to get away after being pistol-whipped. Joe Schelstraete wasn’t as lucky, and was callously shot by armed robbers despite cooperating with their demands.

The fact that the assailants shot Schelstraete even after he handed over everything has his family has been left in disbelief.

“There’s many senseless factors of this tragedy, and that’s one of them,” said Schelstraese’s aunt, Kim Bova. “They didn’t have to kill him. He would have given them anything they wanted. But because of the unfortunate evil and wickedness of this world, they took his life.”

According to Lenny Sanchez, one of the co-founders of the Independent Drivers Guilt in Illinois, carjackings like the one in which Joe Schelstraete was murdered are becoming more common, and he’d like to see more safety features provided by rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.

Sanchez cited several examples of violent attacks on ride-hail drivers, including Javier Ramos, a 46-year-old man who was killed in a suspected carjacking in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood.

Ramos was shot in the head about 3:40 a.m. March 23 by a passenger he was dropping off in the 3700 block of West Douglas Boulevard, police told NBC 5 Chicago, The Times’ reporting partner.

The suspect then fled in Ramos’ vehicle, police told NBC 5.

At a vigil held for Ramos in early April, the IDG suggested ride-hailing companies provide video cameras to every driver and require passengers to take selfies to confirm their identity before being picked up, NBC 5 reported.

Uber explained in a statement at the time that it was exploring new safety technology solutions in the app and was working with Chicago police in their investigation.

How about this for a “safety technology solution” – allow drivers to lawfully carry a gun while they’re on the job. Uber and Lyft both have policies that result in an automatic termination for drivers who are caught carrying, even when they use their lawfully-owned firearm in self-defense. Save your life and you could lose your job. Comply with company policy and you could lose your livelihood and your life.

I have no idea if Joe Schelstraete would have chosen to carry a gun while working for Uber if he’d been allowed to do so, but do know that it should be an option for every rideshare driver in the country. No, a change in policy wouldn’t remove the target on drivers’ backs, but it would at least give them a fighting chance to protect themselves if they do become the victim of a violent attack.

It’s too late for Schelstraete and his family, but it’s not too late for Uber and Lyft to do the right thing for the tens of thousands of other drivers who are putting their life at risk every time they get behind the wheel of their own car to earn a few bucks. I’m not holding my breath that either company will step up and change their policy, however. Heck, I don’t even expect the companies to donate to fundraisers for murdered drivers like this GoFundMe for Schelstraete’s family, even though its their policies that are putting drivers in the line of fire without any means of defending themselves.

Jul 27, 2021 12:30 PM ET