A recently released study conducted by the City University of New York
shows that the limited private background checks conducted by companies
like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar can often miss criminal histories of applicant
drivers. That was the case with Syed Mizzafar, the Uber driver who struck
and killed a six year old girl in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve
2013. Mizzafar had previously been convicted of reckless driving in Florida
for an incident in which he sped down the highway at over 100 mph, cutting
off other cars and crossing into oncoming traffic.
Mizzafar’s criminal history was not picked up on his background check
conducted by Uber because it occurred nine years before the 2013 incident
and Uber’s background checks are limited by California law to seven
years of history. The checks are also name-based, meaning they have a
very high rate of errors and false positives, and they are restricted
in the states and counties they search. These background checks are incredibly
limited compared to those conducted by traditional taxi companies.
Taxi companies, regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission
(CPUC), require fingerprints from applicant drivers, which are run through
a national criminal database containing over 100 years of criminal records
across multiple jurisdictions. Applicant drivers at taxi companies must
also present a 10-year driving records from the DMV. The checks run by
companies like Uber and Lyft are paltry in comparison.
In order for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar to be able to conduct
more thorough checks, legislation must be passed allowing them to do so.
Fortunately, in California, a bill proposed in the assembly would require
fingerprint background checks for all rideshare drivers. The CPUC is also
considering new regulations requiring stricter background checks for companies
like Uber and Lyft. However, until such laws and regulations are enacted,
passengers of these rideshare companies cannot have confidence that their
drivers have been adequately vetted.