Tougher background checks for drivers at companies like Uber and Lyft got the nod from the California Public Utilities Commission Thursday, the state regulatory agency announced.
Under the tightened rules, ride-sharing businesses must use accredited background companies and screen all drivers before they start driving and annually thereafter, and must provide proof to the utilities commission that they did so.
“Our decision today requires that TNCs perform background checks of every driver every year for as long as the driver is authorized to operate on the TNC’s platform,” Commissioner Liane Randolph said in a statement.
“TNC” is the acronym for Transportation Network Company, the utilities commission’s term for ride-hailing businesses.
“Our actions strengthen our existing protections for consumers while being responsive to today’s transportation market,” Randolph said.
The requirements strengthen existing rules, which mandate that ride-sharing businesses must search national criminal records and the U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender public website.
The businesses can’t use people registered on the latter website or those who are convicted violent felons.
Also, the companies are barred from using people convicted of misdemeanor assault or battery, domestic violence, driving under the influence, a felony violation or violation of certain Penal Code sections within the previous seven years.
The new rules come in the wake of lawsuits against both Uber and Lyft regarding business practices including background checks.
In April 2016, Uber settled a civil enforcement case brought by prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles for up to $25 million.
The ride-sharing company agreed to adjust its business practices to remove misleading language and comply with state law, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
The case against Uber was filed in December 2014, alleging that the transportation network company’s claims of industry-leading background checks were false, that the company made exaggerated claims about safety and that Uber had continued to operate at airports when it didn’t have permission to, among other allegations.
Uber was ordered to pay a $10 million penalty within 60 days, and $15 million more if it did not comply with the terms of the suit within two years.
Before the suit against Uber was filed, the district attorneys reached a similar settlement with competitor Lyft, which agreed in 2014 to revise its language on safety, submit its fare calculation system for regulation and only operate at airports where it had permission. Lyft’s civil penalty was $250,000.
Representatives of Uber and Lyft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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