Over 8,000 Uber & Lyft Drivers Fail New MA Background Checks

More than 8,200 Uber and Lyft drivers in Massachusetts have failed a new and more stringent state background check, according to multiple media reports.

Massachusetts officials said Wednesday that 8,206 of the 70,789 applicants—more than 11 percent—were rejected, according to media reports. The most common reasons included having a suspended driver’s license or being licensed for less than three years. But hundreds were rejected for more serious offenses, including violent or sexual crimes, drunk driving, and reckless driving, the Boston Globe reported. More than 300 of the applicants had been convicted of felonies, and 51 were registered sex offenders, the Associated Press reported.

In November, Uber and Lyft agreed to new state-conducted background checks starting this year; those are in addition to the checks conducted by the companies. The reviews don’t include fingerprint-based criminal background checks, as some critics have advocated.

But the state apparently looks back further into each driver’s past than the companies’ background checks. Lyft told media outlets that the firm it hires to do its background checks is “legally prevented” from looking back further than seven years, and that’s why some drivers passed Lyft’s check but failed the state’s.

Uber criticized the state background checks for being too strict.

“Thousands of people in Massachusetts have lost access to economic opportunities as a result of a screening that includes an unfair and unjust indefinite lookback period,” according to a prepared statement from Uber quoted by multiple media outlets. “We have an opportunity to repair the current system in the rules process so that people who deserve to work are not denied the opportunity.”

Governor Charlie Baker said the state has “set a national standard for driver safety,” according to a prepared statement issued to various media outlets.

The rejections are noteworthy because Uber and Lyft have tussled with legislators nationwide over how its drivers should be vetted. Calls for stricter background checks have intensified amid a series of incidents nationwide in which Uber and Lyft drivers allegedly sexually assaulted passengers.

Massachusetts isn’t the only place implementing tougher background checks for ride-hailing app companies. California passed a law last year that requires such companies to search for violent convictions throughout a potential driver’s entire record, not just offenses that occurred in the past seven years. And Uber and Lyft ceased operations in Austin, TX, last year after its citizens voted to uphold city rules requiring fingerprint-based background checks for drivers.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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