The recent shift in sentiment over background checks for Uber drivers sees some flexibility and empathy. Uber and Lyft drivers now have a window of opportunity to appeal rejections. The case being that those drivers who had automatic bans, due to court settlements, were banned automatically. However they had no criminal conviction. Pressure had been mounting from criminal justice activists along with business interests. The State Government has now sought to modify background checks for Uber drivers. Critics had cited that livelihoods were being unfairly blighted due to historic legal and driving infractions. Regulators also have in hand reducing time periods of a suspended license disqualification. Most drivers will see the typical seven year term reduced to five. September 22nd has seen the new rules and regulations come in to force replacing those temporary rules from January. However activists still maintain that the State’s background checks for Uber drivers remain too harsh and punitive.
Ride hailing firms are overseen by The Department of Public Utilities. A spokesperson confirmed that there were several adjustments made to address concerns. Many drivers who have erred historically could request the court seal their criminal records after so many years have passed. Further adding that regulations protect passengers from drivers with a history of dangerous driving and serious criminal records. The State had reported back in April that around 8000 active drivers had been rejected within the initial rounds of criminal background checks. The checks uncovered hundreds that were banned for sex offenses, violent crimes or major driving violations. Under the remit of the new rules these remain as automatic disqualifications.
However the license status of driver’s was the reason for most rejections. In the last seven years many had licenses’ suspended. Other reasons included disqualification due to court cases ending without conviction but a continuation (without finding). This outcome can be dismissed at a later date. Drivers were left frustrated that they were allowed little opportunity to contest the outcome of their cases. Most appeals were automatically rejected with no benefit of a hearing. Civil rights activists along with drivers filled public hearing rooms. The background checks for Uber drivers were called potentially discriminatory and unfair. Further that minorities were more likely to have come in to contact with the criminal justice system. The State no appears to have wavered somewhat.
A hearing in front of regulators is now available for those banned drivers who have a continuance without a finding. However the stipulation is the court settlement is over seven years. License suspensions (disqualification) are now reduced to 5 years (from 7). However, drivers seen to be “habitual traffic offenders,” i.e. serious infractions in defined time periods, can receive bans or have their license suspended in any ten year window. The The Department of Public Utilities confirmed witness intimidation, breaking and entering could ban drivers. The background checks for Uber drivers, by the state, dig deeper in to a driver’s past than Uber and Lyft carry out themselves. However state checks have been criticized in the past as being overly stringent by the companies.
The Department of Public Utilities has declined to adopt a restriction on driver hours i.e. a maximum of 70 hours per week driving. Measures that were designed to diminish the risk of driver fatigue which Uber had opposed. This instead will be a 12 hour limit per day. Lyft and Uber are both currently reviewing. Drivers had been consulted by a criminal defense attorney in respect of the state refusals following background checks. The argument is that adjustments fail some central concerns. That drivers with court continuances are unfairly treated (banned) and an unlimited window of a driver’s past is still open to scrutiny. Restrictions also prevail (State law) in that only the most recent 7 years history can be checked. Some failures in the background check process in Austin, Texas were also highlighted in this article back in 2015.
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