By John Vrooman Haskell
In November 2016, ride-sharing goliaths Uber and Lyft agreed to begin the process of implementing a two-step form of background checks for their drivers, with the aid of the Massachusetts legislature. Now, four months later, over 8,000 of the approximately 71,000 ride-sharing drivers in Massachusetts have been banned from driving for any ride sharing company again. With what some are calling one of the most stringent background checks in the county for ride-sharing drivers, many are calling the new law unfair. But does the ultimate safety of a passenger outweigh the potential risk of excluding someone with a troubling background? Massachusetts appears to think so.
In an effort to promote higher safety standards for those who use ride-sharing apps, over the summer, a new bill, H.4570, was signed into law. Duly named, an “Act Regulating Transportation Network Companies,” (hereinafter, “H.4570”) establishes new background check requirements, among many other new requirements ride sharing companies and their drivers. Following many issues surrounding the quality of background checks for ride-sharing drivers throughout the country, many argue that this legislation could not have come sooner. For example, in the Fall of 2016, shortly before the passing of H. 4570, an Uber driver who used false identification to register as a ride-sharing driver was arrested after he assaulted a college student in Massachusetts. However, some believe that the legislation is overreaching, preventing many from working for companies like Uber and Lyft who have prior, non-felony convictions that would not typically prevent their employment under the traditional background check.
Unlike the previous ride-sharing companies’ one-step background checks, the new Massachusetts law imposes a two-pronged background check to all current and prospective ride-sharing employees. First, the employees are screened either internally, or by a third-party company, a process that is done twice a year, prototypically. The ride-sharing companies, however, are not permitted to look into a driver’s history further than seven years for records of a criminal conviction. Second, the new Massachusetts law may disqualify a current or prospective driver if their driving record shows “license suspensions, driving infractions, or serious crimes such as sexual and violent offenses, among other charges,” according to the Boston Globe. Furthermore, unlike the ride-sharing companies who are limited in their background searches to seven years, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (“DPU”) is not prevented in how long they can look back into an applicant’s history.
In addition to the background check requirements, ride sharing companies and their drivers are now also subject to more stringent requirements as prerequisites to their operation in Massachusetts. For example, the new law imposes greater vehicle inspection requirements, requiring drivers who use cars for ride sharing to have additional, more rigorous safety inspections of their vehicles conducted in addition to their vehicle’s annual state inspection for personal use. Additionally, ride-sharing drivers are now required to carry insurance coverage plans of at least $1 million, “with specific coverage requirements for bodily injury and property damage.”
Although these new legislative requirements on the ride-sharing industry may cause an more intense burden for approximately 11% of the Massachusetts ride-sharing drivers, some believe that the benefits to those passengers using ride-sharing services appear to outweigh those employment concerns. Regardless of what side you come down on, with what Governor Charlie Baker refers to as the “most comprehensive [ride sharing] background check in the country,” the citizens of Massachusetts will likely feel much safer the next time they open that app on their smartphone and request their next car ride.
Student Bio: John is a Staff Member on the Journal of High Technology Law. He is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law. He holds a B.A. in History from Virginia Commonwealth University and is Secretary of the Real Estate/Trusts and Estates Association.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.