Massachusetts Considers Ridesharing Background Check Bill

By Michael Klazema on 3/16/2016

Massachusetts lawmakers are getting close to passing a new statewide background check requirement for all ridesharing services. According to a report from the Insurance Journal, the Massachusetts legislature's Joint Financial Services Committee released an updated and revised version of the bill on March 4th.

The legislation has been pending since last year when it was filed by State Governor Charlie Baker. The bill, if passed and and signed into law, would demand background checks for drivers of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. The Insurance Journal piece indicates that the legislation would dictate "new insurance and pricing guidelines" for ridesharing businesses, as well.

The ridesharing phenomenon generally, and Uber specifically, have repeatedly been criticized for driver background check policies over the past few years. Those criticisms have been helped along by traditional taxicab companies, which typically have to follow local or state guidelines for screening their drivers for criminal records and other red flags. Uber's case has taken many hits along the way, with drivers being accused of everything from misdemeanor battery, to sexual assault and rape, to murder. There is even a site called Who's Driving You, dedicated to aggregating reported criminal incidents that involved Uber or Lyft drivers.

The Massachusetts law would aim to make these ridesharing services a little bit safer for passengers, starting with more consistent background check benchmarks for drivers. Specifically, the bill, as revised by the Financial Services Committee, would demand a "two-step background check for all drivers." First, drivers would need to pass a background check through the ridesharing service itself. Presumably, Uber and Lyft would be able to continue running their current background checks for this step.

The second step would involve a new department within the Department of Public Utilities. The department, which would be called the Ride for Hire Division, would run multi-jurisdictional background checks on every driver hoping to work for Uber, Lyft, or any other ridesharing service. Under the law, any violent or sexually related crimes committed in the past seven years would be automatic grounds for disqualification. Serious driving offenses—including DUIs and hit-and-runs—would result in disqualifications too, as would convictions for felony robbery.

The chair of the Financial Services Committee says that the revised version of the legislation will "allow for expansion and growth of [the ridesharing industry] while ensuring consumer protection and public safety." It would also keep taxi companies at least partially content, by barring ridesharing drivers from picking up fares at the airport until at least 2021.

So what's next for the pending bill? It will head to the full House of Representatives for a vote. If approved there, the Senate will get a chance to review and vote on the bill. The original bill was co-sponsored by members of both the House and the Senate (along with the governor) and had clear bipartisan support from the beginning.

In all likelihood, with that kind of backing, the bill is well on its way to becoming law. Such a turn of events will certainly make things more difficult for Uber, Lyft, and their current or prospective drivers, but will also make things safer for customers. With a double background check that takes some of the oversight out of the ridesharing companies themselves, Massachusetts will be able to take steps to weed out aggressive or otherwise dangerous individuals from the Uber and Lyft driver pools.


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