Amazon delivery companies around the U.S. are instructing workers to bypass daily inspections intended to make sure vans are safe to drive.
Amazon requires contracted delivery drivers to inspect their vehicles at the beginning and end of their shift as a safety precaution. But some drivers say they’re pressured to ignore damage and complete the inspections as quickly as possible, so that delivery companies can avoid taking vans off the road. If delivery companies take a van off the road, they risk forfeiting valuable package routes and drivers may lose a shift.
These inconsistent inspection practices undermine the company’s public messaging around worker safety. They also highlight the tension that delivery partners face between ensuring drivers’ safety and keeping up with Amazon’s aggressive delivery quotas, which can stretch into hundreds of packages per day per driver.
CNBC spoke to 10 current and former Amazon delivery drivers in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Texas who discovered their vans had issues ranging from jammed doors and tires with little to no tread to busted backup cameras and broken mirrors. They say managers told them to ignore these problems and complete their deliveries as usual. Some of these drivers asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from their employers or Amazon.
“They’d tell us, just make sure everything’s great and go,” said Chastity Cook, who quit working for an Amazon delivery company in Illinois earlier this year. “We just checked down the list. We don’t even stop to read it and make sure everything is there.”
Cook’s former employer, Courier Express One, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Amazon told CNBC in a statement that the company regularly audits delivery companies’ compliance with safety policies, including two vehicle safety checks every day. Amazon takes vehicles out of operation until safety issues are addressed, the company said.
“When safety protocol is broken, we take various actions including ending our relationship with a DSP [delivery service partner] if warranted,” the company said. “We’re actively investigating the experiences in this story and don’t believe they are representative of the more than 150,000 drivers that safely deliver packages every day.”
Amazon’s DSP program, launched in 2018, plays a critical role in the company’s vast fulfillment and logistics operations. The DSP network is made up of at least 2,000 contracted delivery firms and 115,000 drivers in the U.S., often distinguishable by blue Amazon-branded vans, that handle the last mile to shoppers’ doorsteps.
Because the DSP network is run by partners, drivers and managers operate at arm’s length from the retail giant. The working environment and management quality varies greatly between DSPs, drivers say.
Amazon has previously said it informs drivers of best safety practices and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in safety mechanisms across the DSP network. Before stepping down as CEO, Amazon founder and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos pledged to make safety and employee satisfaction a greater focus at the company.
The company has increasingly relied on software and in-vehicle technology to monitor driver safety. Amazon in February rolled out AI-enabled cameras in its delivery vans that are designed to detect safety infractions and, for years, it has used an app called Mentor to track employees’ driving behavior. Drivers and DSPs are scored by Amazon, in part, on their adherence to safety measures, which can determine their eligibility to receive bonuses.
Delivery companies have discovered workarounds to some of these tools. Vice reported in May that some DSPs were encouraging drivers to turn off Mentor while on their route to make sure they continue to hit Amazon’s delivery targets.
Additionally, Amazon continues to face broad scrutiny around the safety and treatment of its warehouse and delivery workforce. Under the pressure of getting packages to Amazon’s 200 million-plus Prime members, drivers are increasingly speaking out about working conditions, including claims that workers routinely urinate in bottles and are pushed into dangerous situations while on the road.
How the inspections work
CNBC obtained a screen recording of the inspection process, referred to as a Driver Vehicle Inspection Checklist, showing a step-by-step breakdown of how it works.
Drivers open the Flex app and scan a barcode on their vehicle that pairs it to the app. After that, a window appears in the app, instructing drivers to start the inspection.
Drivers check their vehicle’s front side, passenger side, back side, driver side and cab. Within each category are several subsections that require further inspection, such as the van’s lights, tires, mirrors, steering, cameras and brakes.
If a driver marks issues with the van, the Flex app will immediately prompt them to contact their manager. The app also won’t show drivers their package delivery route. Once the van is repaired, whichever driver is first assigned to the vehicle must verify in the Flex app that any issues were fixed.
Otherwise, a screen at the end of the checklist will say “you didn’t report any issues with the vehicle.” Drivers are required to check a box which states, “I hereby certify that my vehicle inspection report is true and accurate.”
Damaged seat belts, broken backup cameras
In its DSP safety manuals and instructional materials, Amazon encourages drivers not to drive dangerous vehicles. An inspection guide distributed to drivers and viewed by CNBC states, in bold and red font, “Do not operate any unsafe vehicle out on route.”
A separate, 11-page safety manual for DSPs states that, “Drivers must report all vehicle deficiencies, including malfunctions and defects, immediately.” The document, which is undated, also says that pre- and post-trip inspections are necessary to “ensure your assigned vehicle is road ready and doesn’t pose any hazards that prevent the safe operation of the vehicle.”
But drivers say there are persistent safety hazards in their vehicles, from jammed doors and broken backup cameras to bald tires and seatbelts that won’t lock, and managers discourage them from reporting these issues on the checklist.
“They told us not to mark things if they were broken because then the van wouldn’t be drivable,” said Cook, the driver from Illinois. “They said to report damages to management.”
An Amazon.com delivery driver carries boxes into a van outside of a distribution facility on February 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California.
Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images
One former driver from Austin, Texas, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution from their former employer, said a manager told them that if they marked anything wrong with their vehicle, they wouldn’t have a shift that day.
The driver said they noticed numerous safety hazards while working for their DSP. Several vans had broken backup alarms, which alert pedestrians and other vehicles when the van is reversing. Check engine lights and other sensors were often flashing on the vans — enough that drivers joked it looked like Christmas lights, the driver said.
Andre Kirk, a former Amazon delivery driver in Indiana, recalled when he was inspecting his van and noticed the check engine light was on. Kirk thought it meant it was supposed to be taken out of service, but he was forced to drive it anyway.
Concerned for his safety, Kirk drove the van to a nearby Jiffy Lube. The repairman told Kirk he couldn’t work on the Mercedes-Benz sprinter vans used by some DSPs, so Kirk decided to get back on the road and complete his shift as safely as possible.
Kirk said he was confused why his DSP wouldn’t let employees report issues like he experienced during vehicle inspections.
“I felt like something wasn’t right. Why not report this?” said Kirk, who was fired from his DSP in May, in an interview. “If this is not supposed to be in service, why am I still driving it?”
Kirk’s former employer, FAE Distributors, couldn’t be reached for comment.
‘There goes your route’
After drivers flag an issue during inspections, Amazon requires DSP companies to “ground” the vehicle, or take it out of operation for repairs.
Drivers say that managers avoid grounding vehicles because they don’t want to give up delivery routes. For example, if a DSP is forced to ground three vans for repairs, they may not have enough spare vans in their fleet to handle all the delivery routes Amazon assigned them that day.
Forfeiting a delivery route can cost a DSP.
Amazon pays contracted delivery companies for every package delivered each week and for every delivery route they pick up, according to drivers and a former DSP owner, who asked to remain anonymous because they are still in the logistics business.
The former DSP owner said they tried to get vehicle issues repaired as quickly as possible, but they would tell drivers not to mark issues in the Flex app in order to avoid grounding any vans and “dropping routes.”
Dropping a route not only hurts DSPs financially, but it can also affect the score assigned to them by Amazon. Amazon ranks delivery partners on a scale of “Poor” to “Fantastic+,” factoring in things like delivery performance. If a DSP’s ranking falls, it may lose out on bonus payments or receive worse routes in the future.
“The side door could be broken, front door could be broken and you’re not supposed to report it because they’ll ground the vehicle,” said one driver from Indiana. “And then there goes your route.”
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