States Address Background Checks for Rideshare Drivers

The arrest of an Uber driver in connection with a shooting spree in Kalamazoo, Michigan last weekend has brought renewed focus to the rigor with which rideshare companies conduct background checks of their drivers. State and local governments have been looking at the background check issue in a number of ways as part of rideshare-related legislation over the past year. Here’s a primer.

Uber officials said Monday that nothing in the background of Jason Dalton, the Uber driver who allegedly shot six people in Kalamazoo Saturday, would have prevented him from becoming a driver and that he had been well-reviewed by riders during his month-long tenure with the company.

But, as the Washington Post noted, the incident came just weeks after Uber settled two class-action lawsuits after the company was accused of exaggerating the safety of its background checks. The suits claimed the company did not check drivers against the national sex-offender registry or employ fingerprint identification. San Francisco officials said the suits revealed “systemic failures in Uber’s background checks” and that the company’s driver rolls included “convicted sex offenders, thieves, burglars, kidnappers and a convicted murderer.”

Last July, Uber posted a statement explaining its screening procedures on the company website:

All driver-partners wanting to use the Uber platform are required to undergo a screening process, which is performed on our behalf by Checkr, which is nationally accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. … They run a social security trace to identify addresses associated with the potential driver-partner’s name during the past seven years, and then searches for his or her name and addresses in a series of national, state and local databases for convictions in the last seven years.  These include the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, National Criminal Search and several different databases used to flag suspected terrorists.  Upon identifying a potential criminal record, Checkr sends someone to review the record in-person at the relevant courthouse or, if possible, pulls the record digitally.  Verifying potential criminal records at the source—the courthouse records—helps ensure the records match the identity of the potential driver and that any arrest resulted in a conviction.

Uber’s driver-partner screenings also pull the Motor Vehicle Registration (MVR) file associated with the license number provided.  The MVR is not always included as a standard part of criminal background checks.  But Uber believes it is important for screening driver-partners because it includes information about how many speeding or other moving violations an individual has received.

But some have argued that checking for convictions in the last seven years doesn’t go back far enough to assess a driver’s past. The class action lawsuits also claimed that the sex offender registry Uber uses is incomplete.

States have begun to tentatively wade into the issues of how to assess or audit the efficacy of existing background check systems and whether it might make sense to add elements like a fingerprint check requirement at some point down the road. But they may run the risk of invoking the ire of Uber and perhaps limiting the growth and proliferation of rideshare companies by putting in more stringent requirements.

State Rideshare Laws/Legislation & Background Checks

The following states have legislation (or are considering legislation) that addresses the background check issue with language that is unique in some way:

  • Arizona: (Chapter 235, House Bill 2135, 2015): “An owner of a livery vehicle, taxi or limousine licensed through the department shall have available for inspection at all times by the department (of transportation) written evidence of a criminal background check conducted for any driver operating a livery vehicle, taxi or limousine for the owner, whether as an employee or lessee. The criminal background check shall be completed before the driver is engaged as an employee or lessee.”
  • Colorado: (Session Laws of Colorado 2014): “Before a person is permitted to act as a driver through use of a transportation network company’s digital network, the person shall: obtain a criminal history record check. … If a privately administered national criminal history record check is used, provide a copy of the criminal history record check to the transportation network company. A driver shall obtain a criminal history record check … every five years while serving as a driver.” The legislation goes on to list felony criminal offenses that would prohibit a person from serving as a driver if the criminal history record check reveals they have ever been convicted or pled guilty or nolo contendere.
  • Georgia: The state’s rideshare law allows the contract drivers to be responsible for their own background checks and does not require fingerprinting. (Times Free Press, 6/16/15). (House Bill 225, 2015): “No person shall operate a taxicab for the purpose of carrying or transporting passengers for hire unless such person has a for-hire license endorsement or private background check. … Counties and municipalities shall not impose further licensing requirements or background checks on such persons to operate taxicabs in their jurisdictions.”
  • Maryland: Under Maryland’s law, the state Public Service Commission is regulating the industry and issuing licenses to rideshare companies and their drivers. The companies must prove they have a stringent background check system that requires fingerprinting of all drivers. (The Washington Post, 5/12/15). (Senate Bill 868, 2015): “The Commission may approve an applicant to be an operator and issue a temporary transportation network operator’s license to the applicant if the applicant provides all information that the commission requires for the application … and the commission is satisfied with the successful submission of the applicant’s national criminal history records check conducted by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners or a comparable entity approved by the commission and that includes a multi-state, multi-jurisdiction criminal records database search or a search of a similar nationwide database with validation, a search of the sex offender and crimes against minors registry and a search of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender public website.”
  • Massachusetts: The legislature is currently considering a bill to regulate rideshare services. A version of the bill introduced last year would require more stringent background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers that would involve fingerprinting. Uber has said it would pull out of the state if fingerprint checks are required. “Our problem with fingerprinting is, we think it’s discriminatory, meaning there’s a lot of people who might have been arrested who were not convicted that will be denied this opportunity,” said Uber senior adviser David Plouffe, according to The Boston Herald. “We think the background checks that are conducted by a third-party provider on our behalf, they’re going to keep the people out of the cars that should be out of the cars.” Uber argues that fingerprint checks turn up arrests, not convictions, and thus are unfair to populations that get arrested more frequently. But taxi drivers in Boston are now required to submit to annual fingerprint background checks. Boston police began running the checks this week on the city’s 6,200 licensed taxi drivers. Uber estimates they have 20,000 active Uber drivers in the state, up from 10,000 a year ago.   
  • Nebraska: (LB 629, 2015) “Prior to permitting a person to act as a driver, the transportation network company shall obtain and review a national criminal history record information check. The criminal disposition information retrieved by the transportation network company's national criminal history record information check shall be at least as comprehensive as the criminal disposition information retrieved by a national criminal history record information check performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. … Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to require fingerprinting as part of the national criminal history record information check.”
  • Nevada: (AB 175, 2015): “Before a transportation network company allows a person to be connected to potential passengers using the digital network or software application service of the company pursuant to an agreement with the company, the company must … At the time of application and not less than once every 3 years thereafter, conduct or contract with a third party to conduct an investigation of the criminal history of the applicant, which must include, without limitation: (1) A review of a commercially available database containing criminal records from each state which are validated using a search of the primary source of each record. (2) A search of a database containing the information available in the sex offender registry maintained by each state. … The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada shall investigate and compare the efficacy, efficiency and effect on public safety of background checks performed (as indicated above) and background checks performed by submitting the fingerprints of a person by the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its report.”
  • Tennessee: The state’s rideshare law requires the companies to conduct their own background checks. It allows them to continue to use private contractors to conduct the checks instead of state or local police agencies. (Times Free Press, 6/16/15) (HB 992, 2015): “Requires a TNC operating in this state to … conduct, or have a third party conduct, a local and national criminal background check on any potential driver that includes a multi-state criminal records locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation; conduct a national sex offender registry search for any potential driver. … A transportation network company operating in this state may not permit any individual to act as a driver on its digital network who: has been convicted of more than three moving violations in the prior three-year period, or one major violation in the past three-year period, including, but not limited to, attempting to evade the police, reckless driving, or driving on a suspended or revoked license; has been convicted, within the past seven years, of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, fraud, any sexual offense, use of a motor vehicle to commit a felony, a crime involving property damage, theft, any crime involving acts of violence, or acts of terror; is a match in the national sex offender registry.”
  • Virginia: Drivers must undergo a background check, including a comprehensive review of any history of felonies and a search of the sex offender and crimes against minors registry. (The Washington Post, 2/18/15) (H. 1662, 2015): “Before authorizing an individual to act as a TNC partner, and at least once every two years after authorizing an individual to act as a TNC partner, a transportation network company shall obtain a national criminal history records check of that person. The background check shall include (i) a Multi-State/Multi-Jurisdiction Criminal Records Database Search or a search of a similar nationwide database with validation (primary source search) and (ii) a search of the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry and the U.S. Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website. The person conducting the background check shall be accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners or a comparable entity approved by the Department (of Motor Vehicles).”

A number of other states have very uniform language (often worked out in conjunction with Uber) with regards to background checks in their rideshare legislation, including these:

  • District of Columbia: (DC Council Bill B20-0753, 2014): “Before approving a registration application … a private vehicle-for-hire company shall have a third party that is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners or a successor accreditation entity conduct the following examinations: (1) A local and national criminal background check; (2) The national sex offender database background check; and (3) A full driving record check.”
  • Illinois: (SB 2774, 2015) “Prior to permitting an individual to act as a TNC driver on its digital platform, the TNC shall … conduct or have a third party conduct, a local and national criminal history background check for each individual applicant that shall include: (A) Multi-State or Multi-Jurisdictional Criminal Records Locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation (primary source search); and (B) National Sex Offenders Registry database…”
  • Indiana: (House Enrolled Act 1278, 2015): “Before a TNC allows an individual to act as a TNC driver on the TNC's digital network, the TNC shall … conduct, or contract with a third party to conduct: (A) a local and national criminal background check; and(B) a search of the national sex offender registry.”
  • New Mexico: (HB 168, 2016): “Before allowing a transportation network company driver to accept prearranged ride requests through a transportation network company's digital network … the transportation network company shall obtain a local and national criminal background check for the prospective driver that shall include: (a) multistate or multi-jurisdiction criminal records locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation and primary source search; and (b) a national sex offender registry…”
  • North Carolina: (Session Law 2015-237, 2015) “Prior to permitting an individual to act as a TNC driver, the transportation network company must … conduct, or have a third party conduct, a local and national criminal background check for each applicant, including, at a minimum, the following: a. Multi-State/Multi-Jurisdiction Criminal Records Locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation (primary source search). b. National Sex Offender Registry.”
  • North Dakota: (HB 1144, 2015): “Before permitting an individual to act as a transportation network company driver on its digital platform, the transportation network company shall … Conduct, or have a third party conduct, a local and national criminal background check for each applicant that must include: (1) Multistate and multi-jurisdiction criminal records locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation; and (2) National sex offender registry database.”
  • Ohio: (HB 237, 2015) “Prior to authorizing a person to act as a transportation network company driver, a transportation network company shall … Conduct a background check on each applicant, including both of the following: (a) A search of a multi-state/multi-jurisdiction criminal records database, or a similar nationwide criminal records database, and validation of any records through a primary source search ; (b) A search of the United States department of justice national sex offender public web site.”
  • Oklahoma: (HB 1614, 2015): “Prior to permitting an individual to act as a transportation network company driver on its digital network, the TNC shall … Conduct, or have a third party conduct, a local and national criminal background check for each applicant that shall include a check of: a. the Multi-State/Multi-Jurisdictional Criminal Records Locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation through a primary source search, and b. the National Sex Offender Registry database.”
  • South Carolina: (H. 3525, 2015): “The TNC shall obtain certain background and qualification information from a TNC driver before the TNC driver is approved by the TNC to provide TNC services: Conduct, or have a third party conduct, a local and national criminal background check for each applicant that must include: (a) a multi-state and multi-jurisdiction criminal records locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation (primary source search); and (b) national sex offender registry database search.”
  • West Virginia: The state is considering legislation (HB 4228) that contains similar language to the states above.
  • Wisconsin: (AB 143, 2015) “Before a TNC allows an individual to be a participating driver, the TNC must … conduct, or have a third party conduct a criminal background check for the individual … that includes … a multistate and multi-jurisdictional criminal records locator or other similar commercial nationwide database with validation; a national sex offender registry database.”