- Business Insider spoke with four drivers who work as contracted Amazon delivery drivers about the dangers they face during the winter months, from navigating dark, rural roads and extreme weather conditions to dealing with difficult customers and package thieves.
- The delivery drivers we spoke to mentioned heightened safety concerns like fear of being targeted for robberies or even robbed at gunpoint.
- One driver Business Insider spoke to said he experienced two incidents where he was being followed, which led him to call the police. Another added, “There’s nothing in that van that’s worth your life.”
- In a statement to Business Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said, “The safety of our drivers is our top priority.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Dog bites, twisted ankles, and dealing with irritable customers are all just part of the job as an Amazon delivery driver. Many employees deliver in rural areas and have to navigate twisty, gravel, or dirt roads. Others deliver multiple 50-pound packages to the same five-story walk-up apartment building every day.
But as the days get shorter and the nights get longer (and darker), Amazon delivery drivers have to deal with a brand new set of dangers and safety concerns.
In recent months, several delivery drivers across the country have been kidnapped and held at gunpoint for the contents of their vehicles. Many drivers are scared and concerned about these new dangers they’re facing when out delivering packages during the winter months.
Jim Smith, 55, lives in Scappoose, Oregan, and began driving for Amazon in March 2020.
Smith joined Amazon after his freelance photography gigs were canceled indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He’s been on the job for 10 months and has already experienced the physical toll delivering for Amazon can take on one’s body, like blown out knees from 10-hour shifts.
Delivery drivers like Smith, who drive the bigger step trucks, get in and out of the car over 200 times and can walk up to 10 miles each day.
But, according to Smith, the winter months raise different safety concerns.
“The fear, or rather the reality, of possibly having your van broken into, stolen packages, or the extreme possibility of being hijacked, that’s only one of the dangers that’s present this time of year,” he said. “For me, there have been times on routes where I see the same car a couple of blocks behind me or parked in front of me. My thought is this could be either porch pirates that are following along my route and stealing packages behind me, or somebody who may have worse intent.”
Smith says ever since a UPS driver was kidnapped at gunpoint in Portland, he and many of his colleagues have been “on edge” while out on the road.
Many Amazon vans have a back-up camera that is active even if the van is not in reverse, and Smith uses that screen to keep an eye on his vehicle’s surroundings.
“I know that holidays make people desperate. Add that on top of the huge unemployment that we’re seeing and people just barely scraping by because of COVID, I think there’s a lot of motive out there right now with people financially hurting,” Smith said.
Smith says he stays vigilant on the job by locking his van when he leaves it and keeping his personal cell phone on his body at all times. Acknowledging that you are a target is the first step in better preparing yourself for any future potential incidents, he said.
“You need to keep your head on a swivel, you need to use the technology that you have to try to keep yourself safe, and just realize that there’s nothing in that van that’s worth your life,” Smith said. “Give them keys, give them the company phone and plead for them to let you walk away.”
Angel Rajal, 26, lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and has worked for Amazon for the last four years.
He worked first in the warehouse and then as a delivery driver. He made the switch to deliveries in June 2020 and realized he enjoys the customer-facing experience much more than working in the distribution center packing packages.
But Rajal quickly started noticing, as a driver, that he would sometimes be followed.
On one occasion, Rajal noticed the same car with two women following just far enough behind him. As the car quickly approached, he noticed the backseat of their car was filled with brown packages, similar to Amazon’s, and became concerned.
“At first I thought they may have been Flex drivers, but they didn’t have the sticker or the Amazon vest, they didn’t have any of that,” Rajal said. “So I notified the police and I think they were able to get them, but I’m not sure.”
The second time Rajal noticed he was being followed, he was in a gated community and kept seeing the same young man walk back and forth from where he just delivered.
“I would see him peek around the corner just as I dropped off a package,” he said. “And when I would move on to the next stop, he walked back to the same house, and that’s when I knew that he was looking for the packages.”
Amazon has a strict policy against delivery drivers carrying weapons while working, even if a driver has a concealed carry license, Rajal explained to Business Insider. Amazon delivery drivers are considered independent contractors, not employees, but if they are found to be in possession of a weapon, they can lose their jobs.
(Editor’s note: Rajal and Smith are both employed through delivery service provider companies which Amazon contracts for deliveries, and are not considered Amazon employees.)
Rajal said he feels fairly safe delivering during the winter season, but understands that right now as the pandemic worsens and many families are hurting economically, it’s important to “check your back constantly.”
“Every time I’m on the road, during my job, I try to stay vigilant, making sure that I’m not going to have people approaching from behind when I’m on the side door looking for the packages, making sure that no cars are going to pull up on me,” Rajal said. “That’s an everyday concern because anyone can pull a gun or a knife on you at any given moment.”
Jennifer Harbaugh, 51, has been an Amazon Flex driver for over a year in Portland, Oregon.
Flex drivers are like delivery drivers, except they use their own vehicles, are not employed through a delivery service partner (DSP), and are paid per “batch”.
Batches are typically given in three hour “blocks” and contain a certain number of packages for a specified rate. According to Harbaugh, most Flex batches are available in the evening hours, and as the days get shorter during the winter, many shifts she’s delivering almost entirely in the dark.
Harbaugh delivers all across the Portland metro area, including rural areas in southern Washington. She says she’s had to deliver to homes with long, dirt driveways and “private property” signs.
She’s also been confronted multiple times by customers wondering what she was doing on their property, and was greeted one time by a man with a shotgun slung over his shoulder, wondering who she was.
Since Harbaugh is a Flex driver, she drives her own personal vehicle but also wears an Amazon vest.
Harbaugh recalled an instance where the delivery instructions said to place the package at the back door. It was night when Harbaugh arrived at the house. She struggled opening the gate, but figured no one was home. As she walked through the backyard, she noticed the home’s “huge picture windows” and a family, including two small children, eating dinner at a table.
“Those two children freaked out,” Harbaugh said. “They started screaming, and then the mom grabbed the kids and the dad started screaming at me and charged out the back door. I had my vest on, and I said, ‘I’m Amazon!’ and then he said, ‘I don’t care who you are, what are you doing in my backyard?'”
She then showed him her phone with the delivery instructions and the man quickly calmed down and apologized.
“After that I sat in my car and cried. I had an adrenaline rush and had a couple of tears and then thought, ‘Okay I’m fine.'”
Read more: A 32-year-old software engineer went through a ‘super stressful’ interview process at Amazon — but turned down the $167,006 offer. Here’s how she decided other things were more important than money, without burning any bridges.
Stephanie King, 56, is an Amazon Flex driver who lives in Tigard, Oregon.
King’s been a Flex driver for nearly two years, and has also driven for Lyft and Uber. She started working solely as a Flex driver at the start of the pandemic because she worried about the safety of having other people in her car.
The main concern King has as a Flex driver is making deliveries in the dark and during extreme weather conditions. Certain parts of Washington and Oregon get snow and heavy rain during the winter, so much so that King decided to put her snow tires on her car to circumvent any potential problems while she’s on the road.
“The more you drive, the more likely you are to be in an accident,” she said.
Because King delivers mostly in late evenings, she makes sure to wear bright colors.
She said she drives “an Amazon blue” electric car, too.
“I don’t want to look like just some random person. I want to look like I’m probably from Amazon, so I wear really visible stuff, so I’m not skulking around in a black hoodie, and I do that intentionally. I want to stand out as much as possible so people see me,” King said.
Drivers like King who primarily deliver in the evening hours urge customers who are expecting packages after 4 p.m. to leave their front porch light on, so that the driver can first find your house number, but more importantly, be able to see where they are walking and placing the packages, so that they don’t trip on extension cords or lawn furniture that could result in an injury.
(Editor’s note: As Flex drivers, King and Harbaugh are both independent contractors for Amazon and are not considered Amazon employees.)
“If I deliver to the wrong house I could get shot for trespassing,” King said. “The navigation gets us really close, but that doesn’t mean I am not going to next door neighbor’s, who are strung out on meth, armed to the teeth and has a rottweiler.”
King said although she tries to be prepared for any likely scenario, she doesn’t think too much about how she may be targeted or followed.
“If I was thinking like that, I wouldn’t be able to do this for a living,” she said.
Editor’s note: In a statement to Business Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said, “The safety of our drivers is our top priority.” Amazon did not respond to further inquiries about the specific circumstances brought up by the subjects in this piece.