Amazon delivery companies around the United States are encouraging reckless and dangerous driving by ordering delivery drivers to shut off an app called Mentor that Amazon uses to monitor drivers' speed and give them a safety score to prevent accidents. Drivers say they are being ordered to turn the app off by their bosses so that they can speed through their delivery routes in order to hit Amazon's delivery targets.
"Sign out of Mentor if you haven't already," an dispatcher at an Amazon delivery company texted a delivery driver at DDT2, an Amazon warehouse in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan a little after noon on a day in March, according to a screenshot obtained by Motherboard. This was less than five hours into his 10-hour shift.
"Starting tomorrow everyone needs to be logged into Mentor for at least 2 hours no more no less, so make sure that's one of the first things we're doing in the mornings," a dispatcher at DAT2, an Amazon delivery station in the suburbs of Atlanta told drivers who work 10-hour shifts in a group chat in May 2020.
Mentor is a smartphone app made by a company called eDriving, which partners with Amazon to monitor the driving behaviors of delivery drivers at Amazon Delivery Service Partners, which are quasi-independent companies who are contracted by Amazon to deliver packages in Amazon-branded vans. Using sensors in a driver's smartphone, Mentor collects information about a driver's acceleration, braking, cornering, and speeding. It also detects "phone distraction" based on how much a driver is using their phone outside of the Mentor app. It then gives drivers a "FICO Safe Driving Score" in order to "objectively measure how safe a driver is." Amazon ties driver bonuses to several metrics, including a delivery worker's driving score.
Motherboard spoke to Amazon delivery drivers in New York, Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, and Georgia who say their delivery companies have ordered them to log off the app, turn on airplane mode, or shut off their phones in the middle of their shifts to prevent the Mentor app from collecting data about their driving over the past year. Five drivers we spoke to said that they were asked to keep the Mentor app on for at a few hours of their shift and then to turn it off, ostensibly because Amazon or eDriving would have a harder time detecting anything was wrong if the app was on for at least part of a shift.
These drivers say their bosses, who own Delivery Service Partner companies are demanding they turn off the app so that drivers can drive recklessly to hit Amazon quotas without being detected by Mentor and Amazon. The drivers feel they are being threatened and pressured to break traffic laws and risk their own safety while delivering Amazon packages. Though they're employed by contractors, Amazon delivery drivers are subject to Amazon's delivery route algorithms and productivity targets.
"Speeding was the main thing. They were harsh on drivers that weren’t going as fast as they wanted," a former driver at the delivery station in Romulus, Michigan who quit in late April, told Motherboard. "I complied when they asked me to turn off the app because I didn't want to cause friction. But it was a lot of stress, high blood pressure, seething anger and frustration."
“This behavior is unacceptable and does not adhere to the safety standards that we expect of all Delivery Service Partners," Rena Lunak, a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard. "It’s also misleading to suggest that this behavior is necessary – in fact, more than 90% of all drivers are able to complete their deliveries before the scheduled time while following all safety procedures.”
Ed Dubens, the founder and CEO of eDriving declined to comment. Dubens' FICO Safe Driving Score of 766 is in his email signature; Amazon's "basic expectation for a successful [delivery driver] is an 800+ FICO score, delivering your route in 10 hours or less, and all other metrics that go into weekly consideration of a 'fantastic driver,'" a message from an Amazon delivery company to drivers viewed by Motherboard stated.
Amazon knows this work is dangerous—and has strategically placed the liability for its drivers on the small delivery companies, who employ the drivers. Amazon has more than 1,300 delivery companies worldwide that employ hundreds of thousands of drivers. Drivers have reportedly been beaten, bitten, carjacked, robbed, shot, on the job. Under pressure from Amazon and their contractors to work quickly, drivers have died in accidents and killed and maimed other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, including a nine month year old baby.
By getting drivers to turn off the Mentor app, Amazon's delivery companies—small contractors which are paid by Amazon to facilitate package delivery around the United States—can push drivers to circumvent Amazon's strict driving rules intended to prevent accidents in turn raising stats that can increase revenue in a cutthroat landscape where many delivery companies are barely scraping by, and get paid per package delivered on time in addition to bonuses that are earned through efficient, safe driving recorded by the Mentor app.
"The issue here is Amazon does not compensate delivery companies fairly for what they're asking us to do. Everything is done on a shoestring budget," the owner of an Amazon delivery company near Seattle, Washington, told Motherboard. "Companies that tell their drivers to turn off the app are trying to get a perfect score so they can get their incentives. In my opinion, this is not ethical."
Amazon delivery drivers are asked to deliver upwards of 400 packages a day on grueling 10-hour shifts under pressure from contractors who earn extra revenue from Amazon when their drivers deliver packages quickly and efficiently. Amazon adds an additional revenue per package delivered, in addition to bonuses that can be pocketed by delivery companies or distributed to drivers at their discretion. These bonuses are only offered if drivers' stats on the Mentor app collectively average to above 800 on a 100-850 scale.
Because of these bonuses, drivers say their companies ask them to drive a few hours or a couple stops, while minding their speed and braking, so that the app registers a high score, and then turn off the app for the rest of their shift. A pattern of low Mentor scores can potentially jeopardize a company's access to routes from Amazon, according to Amazon drivers and an Amazon delivery company owner.
"Our dispatcher told us after three or four hours you can turn Mentor off, and sign off, because when the thing with Mentor is when it's on, it's regulating things," an Amazon delivery driver who works at DNA1, an Amazon delivery station in Nashville Tennessee, told Motherboard. "People are driving slower and following traffic laws and rules Amazon wants us to follow, turning off vans, putting on hazards, wearing seatbelts."
"Once it's turned off there's no tracking of speed, how fast you're taking corners," he continued.
"I turned off the app around lunch everyday," a 23-year-old former Amazon driver in Rosemead, California, who quit in April told Motherboard. "I would be constantly stressed, worried all the time about making my quotas."
After Motherboard asked for comment for this story, at least one delivery station announced a pay increase to delivery drivers and said that it would no longer use driving scores as a bonus metric, in a message to drivers obtained by Motherboard.
The driver who worked at DDT1, the warehouse in Romulus, Michigan until late April, was only halfway through his 10-hour shift, which began at 7:20am when he received a text message from his dispatcher at the contractor called Prime Presence that said "We sign out of Mentor at 11am everyday." Amazon requires that drivers remain logged into the Mentor app throughout their 10-hour routes.
The driver frequently received text messages from the dispatcher at Prime Presence, which operates out of the Amazon warehouse in Romulus, Michigan, demanding he complete his routes faster, according to screenshots obtained by Motherboard. "Gotta pick up the pace man," "FYI this route should not take you until 5," text messages from the dispatcher to the driver from March and April, reviewed by Motherboard said. These jobs are advertised online as 10-hour driving shifts, but the driver in Michigan said he was under constant pressure to finish in seven hours. Motherboard granted the driver anonymity because he feared retaliation.
Prime Presence did not return Motherboard’s calls for comment.
Two Amazon delivery drivers also told Motherboard that their delivery companies told them not to record damages, maintenance, or safety issues with their Amazon vans into the app during a daily vehicle inspection, because Amazon would ground those vehicles, but to report issues to the delivery service partner directly.
"My vehicle had a damaged roof, rain leaked inside, the side door was broken for months. It also needed an oil change and tire pressure was low, but we weren't allowed to report anything, because Amazon would ground the van, and that's one less route that delivery company would have," Leonard Hodges, a former Amazon delivery driver at the warehouse DHO4 in Houston, Texas who quit in early 2020, told Motherboard.
Motherboard reviewed a text message where Hodges complained about his right turn signal for his van going out. "Ok don't put it on e-Mentor... I will change it by morning," his manager responded.
Some Amazon delivery drivers say they turn off the Mentor app during their routes because driving in a way that would lead to a high Mentor score while completing their quotas for the day is nearly impossible. Drivers say the app is also full of glitches, for example, it often marks the jostling of a phone as "distracted driving." On the Apple Store, Mentor has a one star rating out of five stars, and on Reddit, Amazon delivery drivers have posted about "the best way to cheat Mentor."
"The app itself is so problematic," a former Amazon delivery driver in Buffalo, New York, who quit in May told Motherboard. "I’ve gotten hit with phone distractions when I’ve never touched the phone. It’s almost impossible to keep a good score. The app is terrible. "
"It's really a catch-22 situation," she continued. "Either you turn the app off so you can deliver faster or you leave it on and deliver slower and don't get your bonuses."
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In early 2020, Amazon announced that it would be installing AI-powered cameras that use facial recognition technology, made by Netradyne, into all of its vans in order to improve safety. Drivers have been forced to sign biometric consent forms agreeing to allow the cameras to collect their biometric data, or lose their jobs.
Amazon did not respond to a question about whether the new Netradyne cameras, which also track speed, acceleration, breaking and turns, will eventually replace the Mentor app. Currently, some drivers in the United States are monitored by both Netradyne and Mentor. Other drivers still only have Mentor.