Lawmaker Wants Uber, Lyft to Keep Pervs From Driving

Lawmaker Wants Uber, Lyft to Keep Pervs From Driving
File photo by Alfredo Mendez/Flickr

The image of the pervy ride-hail driver has become, well, pervasive in contemporary popular culture. 

Lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to get the big two ride-app firms, Uber and Lyft, to adopt more comprehensive background checks that could weed out ex-con drivers.

The latest try comes from California Assemblyman Jim Cooper.

His Assembly Bill 1289 is a little closer to the goal posts. It was recently approved unanimously by the bipartisan Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications. 

The law, if approved, would require "comprehensive" criminal background checks for potential drivers, including local, state and law enforcement record searches. The records would be longer in the tooth than the seven-year checks now required by state regulators.

The bill doesn't mention fingerprinting, a more costly kind of background check that the ride-hail firms have been avoiding, but federal record searches usually involve fingerprints.

The idea is that records are more definitively tied to applicants; otherwise they could be virtual identity thieves with scary rap sheets. Longer time frames captured by federal checks also could catch criminal drivers who fell through the cracks.

Cooper's office notes that prosecutors in L.A. and San Francisco have uncovered at least two dozen ride-hail drivers who had convictions for serious crimes, including murder and assault. One Uber driver was a registered sex offender, L.A. Weekly reported previously.

Taxi drivers, long fuming over the apps' ability to operate under looser rules, note that they must submit to Live Scan federal fingerprinting in order to work in L.A. The ride-hail firms claim that plenty of cabbies have turned out to be alleged criminals.

City leaders, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, want the state Public Utilities Commission to let L.A. start a pilot program that would require fingerprint-based background checks for local Uber and Lyft drivers. The city, however, probably could have forced the issue all by itself by requiring such checks for app drivers working at LAX.

Under Cooper's proposed law, if ride-hail companies are using registered sex offenders, violent criminals, sex offenders or past DUI drivers behind the wheel, they'd be on the hook for fines of $500 to $50,000.

"As a father of four daughters, I don’t want my children being picked up by a driver convicted of murder or rape," Cooper says. "AB 1289 will uncover the complete criminal history of prospective drivers and would help ensure the safety of riders."

The bill is now headed to the Senate Committee on Public Safety.

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