Another on-demand murder at Didi: Driver crushes passenger to death over ride-related dispute

Society & Culture

An app-based service is under fire yet again: this time it’s Didi Chuxing, China’s biggest ride-hailing company that can’t seem to keep its passengers safe from their drivers.

Didi headquarters in Beijing
Florence Lo / Reuters

A driver employed by Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing app company, has been charged for the murder of a passenger whom he reportedly ran over with his vehicle repeatedly after a ride-related quarrel. News of the horrific killing has sparked renewed scrutiny of Didi’s accountability for its drivers’ actions.

According to police (in Chinese) in the southeastern city of Fuzhou, Fujian Province, the victim, surnamed Zhang, was severely injured when his Didi driver, surnamed Gao, hit him with the car after midnight on March 14. Zhang was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later. Before Gao knocked down Zhang and repeatedly ran him over, the two were involved in an argument about the ride, which made Gao “lose his temper.”

On March 15, Didi confirmed (in Chinese) Zhang’s death. “We are profoundly saddened by the tragic news and we’ve sent our deep condolences to the victim’s family,” the company’s safety committee wrote. “Going forward, we will make the utmost efforts to eliminate every safety hazard, enhance safety education courses for our drivers, and reduce the occurrence of safety incidents.”

The popular ride-sharing service also revealed details about the case, saying that the pair had had a dispute over pickup instructions, and that the victim was with his girlfriend when the incident happened. It added that the driver in question had 19 years of driving experience, and that the company had never received any safety complaints about him since he passed a background check and signed up as a Didi driver in 2019.

In an interview with Red Star News (in Chinese), Zhang’s brother said that after Gao accepted Zhang’s request for a ride, Zhang had sent him a note on Didi’s app, telling him not to call the phone number associated with the account because it was his parents’. However, Zhang stil contacted Gao’s father to confirm the ride. Unhappy with Zhang ignoring his note and interrupting his father’s sleep, the passenger got into an argument with the driver during the ride, which led to Gao asking Zhang and his girlfriend to exit his car. 

After stepping out of the car, Zhang tossed a water bottle at Gao’s car. Gao then used his car to ram into Zhang multiple times. Zhang’s girlfriend, who was slightly injured, said that Gao had then immediately called the police, but he described the situation as a “car accident.”

The driver has been detained by police and a murder investigation has been launched. 

For several years now Didi has dealt with accusations of putting riders at risk and mishandling reports of sexual assault — especially after two high-profile murder and rape cases in 2018, when female passengers died at the hands of their male drivers.

Since then, Didi has vowed to make passenger safety its top priority and conduct more rigorous background checks on its drivers. The company also has largely attempted to tackle this issue through technology updates like compulsory audio recordings for customers trips and in-app “panic buttons,” which let riders instantly call the police when in danger.

While Sunday’s incident has once again put Didi’s safety efforts in the spotlight, public opinion is divided (in Chinese) over the company’s accountability when its drivers get into accidents or commit crimes. On Weibo, some users argued that Didi was not at fault because the incident was essentially a minor dispute that turned into a deadly event because two adults had anger issues, but others said that Didi could have done more to make sure its drivers were in a healthy mental space to serve customers.