Congress took another step this week in ensuring that we all have safe rides home on Saturday nights. A group of Congressional Democrats penned a letter to the CEOs of Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft demanding that the companies require their drivers to undergo more thorough background checks. This letter comes in the wake of a series of sexual assaults that have occurred not only in America, but around the world.

Despite the extensive background check procedures that Uber already has in place–“[i]n the United States, Uber’s background-verification process already includes checks of court records going back seven years; a multi-state criminal database; and the National Sex Offender Registry”–the recent wave of incidents has proven them insufficient. In late 2014, a Boston driver allegedly beat, strangled, and sexually assaulted a female passenger. The alleged rape of a female passenger in Delhi caused public outcry in India and Uber was forced to stop offering services in certain cities in that country as result. Similar attacks have been reported in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

The solution called for by the eight signatories of the letter is biometric finger-print screening of all drivers, both new and old. These members of Congress have a valid basis for demanding this necessary precaution as many state-regulated taxi companies are required to administer finger-print based background checks. Though each of the above mentioned services contract with private companies that run driver social security numbers against county-by-county online records, finger-print checks are more thorough and difficult to fake. This is especially true given that the social security numbers are provided by the drivers themselves, leaving it up to the company performing the background check to verify that the drivers are who they say they are.

Though their motives may be suspect, cab drivers and other traditional transportation companies have stepped into the fray as well. The Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association has launched a “Who’s Driving You?” campaign specifically targeting Uber and Lyft, which highlights the fact that taxi drivers have to undergo more costly but comprehensive background checks.

Tellingly, Lyft’s operations skyrocketed from 30 to 70 markets in 2014 alone. And, Uber, the 39th most popular free app in the iTunes store and a company currently valued at $40 billion, can certainly afford to implement these same precautions for its passengers.

Ryan Dewey

One Response to Safety First: String of Sexual Attacks by Ride-Sharing Drivers Prompts Congressional Action

  1. Chelsea Fitzgerald says:

    This article highlights an important weakness of the sharing economy in that while it creates lower priced services for consumers, it does so at least in part by shirking federal and state regulations that traditional service providers must comply with. In light of the risks posed to riders by drivers who may have been inadequately background tested, I agree with you that these companies should adopt more stringent tests if they want to prioritize the safety of their riders.