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Texas Enacts New Background Check Regulations for Uber, Lyft Drivers

Uber and Lyft are convenient ways for city dwellers to get where they need to go, but these ride hailing companies have faced plenty of criticism in recent times. To help keep riders safer on the road, Texas governor Greg Abbott recently signed a bill to put new regulations in place for Uber and Lyft drivers. Why was the bill enacted, what does it involve, and how are people reacting to it?

What Led to the Bill?

Various cities in Texas had enacted regulations on ride-sharing companies, and these regulations caused the companies to withdraw from those cities.

In Austin, Houston, and Galveston, the city began to require drivers for Uber and Lyft to get fingerprint background checks, a requirement that both Uber and Lyft resisted to the point where they no longer operated in those cities. Other Texas cities, such as Dallas, had more lenient requirements.

The differences between Texas cities moved lawmakers to debate whether individual cities or the state should regulate requirements for ride-hailing drivers.

What Does the Bill Involve?

Uber and Lyft withdrew from some Texas cities because they argued that the cities’ regulations were too burdensome for their business models. The companies even spent roughly $9 million dollars on a campaign in Austin to convince voters to overturn the city’s laws. The campaign was unsuccessful.

Governor Abbott stepped in to bring the companies back to Texas’ major cities. The bill, which overrides local city laws for ride-hailing companies, removes the fingerprint requirements. It does, however, put strict requirements in place for drivers.

It requires that drivers pass annual state, local, and national criminal background checks. While some may view this as excessive, it is necessary to ensure rider safety. In fact, in Massachusetts, more than 10 percent of ride-hailing drivers fail their state-required background checks.

The bill goes further. It also requires that companies obtain a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee to operate.

What Reaction Has the Bill Caused?

After the bill was signed, Chelsea Harrison, a spokeswoman for Lyft, stated, “We’re excited to return to Austin on Monday. As we’ve said for months, we will relaunch in the city as soon as Gov. Abbott signs HB 100 into law.” Similarly, an Uber spokesperson said, “Austin is an incubator for technology and entrepreneurship, and we are excited to be back in the mix… We know that we have a lot of work to do in the city, but we couldn’t be more excited for the road ahead.”

However, the Houston mayor stated that he “can no longer guarantee that your driver has passed a background check that includes all 50 states and the FBI’s national criminal database.”

Smaller ride-hailing companies may also be displeased about the bill. When Uber and Lyft withdrew from some cities because of the strict regulations, smaller startup companies stepped in to fill the void. They agreed to operate in accord with the cities’ requirements so they could operate without the effort it would have taken to fight the rules.

With the lightened restrictions for ride-hailing drivers, those small companies are likely to face new and stiff competition across cities where they had become used to having a virtual monopoly.

Background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers

A Look at Uber and Lyft Background Checks Across the Country

Texas and Massachusetts aren’t the only states with strict requirements for ride-hailing drivers. In California, a law exists that places steep fines on ride-hailing companies if their drivers are found to have criminal offenses on their records — the fines can be up to $5,000 per occurrence.

Uber and Lyft have their own background check requirements for their drivers, but these checks have failed to find criminal offenses in the past. The companies’ checks only search seven years into drivers’ pasts, whereas the law in California will allow ride-hailing businesses to do a background check that stretches back through a driver’s lifetime.

The Golden State’s law was enacted in light of reports of crimes committed by ride-hailing drivers across the country. In fact, incidents of assault, battery, and rape perpetrated by drivers have made headlines in several states, including Washington, California, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, and several other states.

When states step up to encourage Uber and Lyft to properly screen their drivers, everyone benefits. In California, Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorneys sued the companies for misleading riders about safety. Both companies settled for a substantial sum — Lyft for $500,000 and Uber for $25 million. Stricter background check requirements may have helped to prevent the lawsuit.

Be Safe When You Hail a Ride

It isn’t just governments and ride-hailing companies who have a responsibility to make sure Uber and Lyft riders are safe on the road. Individual consumers should also take steps to protect themselves. If you use these services, make sure you do the following:

  • Get in the right car. Check its license plate matches the info on your app. Also check to make sure that the driver name and photo match.
  • Get in the backseat. This allows you to sit on either side of the vehicle, and it gives both you and driver some personal space.
  • Share your trip details. The Uber app lets you share where you’re going — plus your driver’s information — with a friend. They can check on you to make sure that you’ve reached your destination safely. Your friend doesn’t have to download the app to see the information.
  • Trust your instincts. If you ever feel like you’re in danger, don’t hesitate to call 911.
  • Provide feedback. Review your experience with the company and report any inappropriate driver behavior.

The governor of Texas stepped in to help both riders and ride-hailing companies in his state. The new bill eases burdensome restrictions on drivers, but it still leaves measures in place that protect individuals who take advantage of Uber and Lyft services. California and Massachusetts also have laws that make sure drivers are properly scrutinized before they get on the road. When companies obey the rules and passengers take appropriate precautions, everyone on the road will be safer.