When you need a ride to the office for a long day of work, to the airport to catch a flight, or back home after a late night, you want to rest assured that the driver you call will get you there safely. You can’t trust just anyone to transport you, and you certainly don’t want to put your life in the hands of a driver with an unsafe driving record or a questionable past.
If you live in or travel to Massachusetts, you need to stay up to date on local ride-hailing news and legislation. Find out why over 10 percent of ride-hailing drivers in Massachusetts failed a recent background check, and learn what this development means for both drivers and passengers.
How Ride-Hailing Companies Conduct Background Screenings
Throughout the U.S., ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft depend on a vast network of vehicle-owning contractors to transport passengers. While these companies might not conduct standard job interviews when hiring new contractors, they must follow state and local laws pertaining to background checks.
These checks haven’t always gone smoothly, though. In 2015, drivers in San Francisco brought a class action lawsuit against Uber, claiming that the ride-hailing company conducted illegal background checks. The courts ultimately determined that the third-party company Uber had hired to do pre-employment screenings hadn’t followed Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guidelines.
These rules require FCRA-certified background check companies to give notice to candidates when something on their background report leads to termination or causes them not to be hired in the first place. This notice should theoretically enable candidates to dispute the reported issue, but Uber’s San Francisco contractors never received this type of notice.
Why Massachusetts Lawmakers Require New Background Checks
While Uber and Lyft typically conduct their own internal background checks or hire preferred third-party companies to do so, the screenings aren’t always as thorough as you might think. In some states, this causes the ride-hailing companies to clash with legislators.
That’s what happened in Massachusetts in late 2016, when state lawmakers demanded that the companies expand the scope of their background screenings. In this case, the requirement for updated background checks stemmed from negotiations related to ride-hailing driver access. In order for Uber and Lyft drivers to pick up and drop off passengers at Boston’s Logan Airport, the companies had to agree to more stringent background screenings.
What the New Background Screenings Require
The new guidelines require Uber and Lyft do more than just a basic background screening that covers offenses in Massachusetts. Both ride-hailing companies must check potential Massachusetts drivers’ criminal histories and driving records in multiple states. Lawmakers believe that doing this provides passengers with an additional layer of protection against unsafe drivers and dangerous criminals.
The two ride-hailing companies must also search for drivers in the Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website. Doing this will effectively prevent registered sex offenders from driving for Uber or Lyft or from interacting with their customers.
In addition, the state of Massachusetts must conduct its own independent background checks for the drivers. To do so, state authorities will check drivers’ names against lists of outstanding warrants and sex offender registries throughout the state.
These updated checks also consider a type of plea deal known as a continuance without a finding (CWOF). This type of deal doesn’t result in a guilty conviction, yet it’s still considered a red flag for the new background checks in Massachusetts.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the ride-hailing companies’ original screening standards and the new ones is the timeframe that the check covers. Both Uber and Lyft generally check drivers’ histories going back seven years. The new background screenings in Massachusetts consider convictions and offenses throughout each driver’s lifetime.
The Surprising Results of the Updated Background Checks
According to FCRA guidelines, drivers must agree to background checks before they take place. While most drivers had already completed the companies’ initial background checks, over 70,000 Uber and Lyft drivers submitted to the new background screenings. Nearly 11 percent of drivers didn’t make the cut and were terminated by their respective employer.
CNN reports that a previously suspended license was the most common reason that the drivers didn’t pass the screening. However, many others had far more serious blemishes on their records. In fact, over 1,500 drivers had criminal records that included violent offenses. Others had convictions ranging from driving offenses to sexual offenses to felonies.
Finally, some of the more than 8,000 drivers who failed the screening did so for more benign reasons. Some simply hadn’t had a driver’s license for long enough, and others’ licenses had lapsed.
How These Checks Could Affect Ride-Hailing Companies in the Future
Many drivers passed the ride-hailing companies’ initial background tests but failed the updated state checks not because the initial tests were inadequate or poorly performed. Instead, the tests were subject to more stringent legal limitations.
In Massachusetts and many other states, background check companies can only look back at seven years’ worth of candidates’ histories. State agencies, however, have virtually no limitations on examining candidate histories. This allows the state the potential to consider far more past offenses and determine many more reasons for rejecting drivers.
Uber and Lyft spokespersons have expressed disappointment in the more stringent rules and the way that Massachusetts authorities have applied them to drivers the companies had already contracted. However, updated background checks seem to be just the first step in Massachusetts lawmakers’ plans to regulate ride-hailing more closely. A new law that will take effect in 2018 requires ride-hailing companies to submit to stringent inspection and insurance checks. Public hearings and potential appeals may change the specifics of these laws and their applications prior to 2018.
Ride-hailing apps offer some of the most convenient and cost-effective rides you’ll find in most major cities. Don’t assume that they’re the same no matter where you use them, though. Make sure to choose the best ride-hailing app and know what background check precautions are standard in your area to ensure a safe ride every time.