The debate about ridesharing services and background checks is not new. For years, ridesharing businesses—primarily Uber and Lyft—have faced criticism for their driver background check policies. Both companies have become embroiled in controversies over the criminal actions of their drivers. A website called “Who’s Driving You?” even tracks incidents involving rideshare drivers—including allegations of physical assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, kidnapping, and even wrongful death.
Uber and Lyft have fought back, arguing that their background checks are thorough and even abandoning markets where new regulations spring up demanding fingerprint checks for ridesharing companies. At the same time, both companies have evolved their driver screening protocols over the years. For instance, both Uber and Lyft have added ongoing criminal monitoring to their strategies for vetting personnel. Despite these evolutions, it seems that Uber and Lyft background checks still have room to improve.
In September 2019, a group of 14 sexual assault survivors filed a joint lawsuit against Lyft. The suit, filed in the California Supreme Court, alleges that Lyft has been negligent in its policies surrounding sexual assault allegations.
First, the suit states that Lyft does not have a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment and does not have a proper protocol for investigating allegations of sexual assault or rape when they come to light. Second, the suit alleges that Lyft has knowingly allowed individuals accused of sexual assault or rape to continue driving for the service even after those individuals were reported to the service. Third, the suit argues that Lyft has failed to vet its drivers properly, in part due to its preference for name-based background checks over fingerprint-based background checks. Finally, the suit proposes strategies that Lyft could use to monitor rides, including audio or video recording equipment in driver vehicles. Lyft did add a new feature to its app in May 2019 that allows passengers to call 911 at the tap of a button should they believe that they are in danger.
The lawsuit prompted Lyft to announce several changes. One change was the implementation of a new “Smart Trip Check-In” feature that detects “unexpected delays” in rides and contacts both drivers and passengers to determine if they require support from Lyft or emergency assistance. Lyft also donated $1.5 million to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and partnered with the organization to launch a new educational program for its drivers. Going forward, all Lyft drivers “will be required to complete additional mandatory Community Safety Education.”
While Lyft has been bearing the brunt of public outcry most recently, Uber hasn’t escaped unscathed. Also in September 2019, the Washington Post ran a story about how Uber uses a “three strikes” system to discipline drivers. In most cases, drivers can accumulate up to three “uncorroborated allegations”—including accusations of sexual assault or rape—without even being suspended from the app. The article also looked inside Uber’s “investigations unit,” which works to shield the company from liability rather than protect customers.
This renewed controversy over Lyft and Uber background checks and protective policies comes at a moment when numerous new ridesharing companies are trying to launch twists on the Uber and Lyft model. The companies—which include HopSkipDrive, Zum, and Bubbi—were all discussed in a USA Today article and are all part of a new ridesharing category: “Uber for kids.”
Uber and Lyft both have policies that instruct drivers not to pick up passengers who are under 18. These new services are designed to offer transportation options for unaccompanied minors. Each business has rigorous background check policies and other driver requirements. For instance, HopSkipDrive uses “FBI-approved” fingerprint background checks and requires all drivers to have at least five years of caregiving experience. Bubbi uses video cameras in cars to record and monitor each ride—the requirement that plaintiffs in the Lyft case are currently seeking.
As these stories and developments make clear, background checks and other safety protections for ridesharing services are still a work in progress. Despite their substantial presence in our society, these services have only been around for a decade, and they are still finding their footing. The good news is that new businesses launching in this space—particularly “Uber for kids” services—seem to recognize the paramount importance of vetting their drivers thoroughly.