By now readers of this blog know that just a couple of days ago, the state of Massachusetts – through the Department of Public Utilities’ Transportation Division – pulled off the road more than 8,000 drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. Reason: These people failed state background checks – but the worst part was that these drivers had already passed background checks run on them by Uber and Lyft. Suffice to say, a very serious problem.
Complying with recent Massachusetts legislation “regulating” the new ride-hailing industry, the state DPU reviewed both driving records at the RMV and criminal records/CORIs for almost 71,000 drivers, rejecting about 11 per cent for reasons that ranged from driving violations, such as speeding, to violent crimes, including drunken driving that caused serious injuries or death, as well as sex offenses. Several hundred were disqualified due to violent criminal histories, including sex offenders and assault & battery convictions. Importantly, there’s a different “look-back” period for motor vehicle offenses and the time period used for CORI’s and more serious criminal offenses. For operator and driving violations, the state goes back seven years with its Massachusetts RMV checks. But for criminal offenses, such as drunk driving convictions where serious injury or death resulted, or violent crimes such as sex offenses, there is no limit to how far back in time the state can look.
While the most common reason drivers were rejected related to some type of drivers’ license status problem such as having a suspended license, another problem was presented: Any driver that had a previous criminal court case that did not result in a conviction, but instead a judgement of “Continued Without A Finding (CWOF”), was also rejected. As our page on CWOFs discusses, this disposition is designed to allow a criminal defendant to avoid a “Guilty” finding, and allow for a later dismissal of the charges if the defendant stays out of future trouble.
I’m a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney – and I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of people who are convicted of minor offenses go on to never appear in criminal court again, or people whose cases have been continued without a finding, and many, many cases that were eventually dismissed. Cases involving charges such as Massachusetts domestic violence charges, or Massachusetts assault & battery charges, or minor Massachusettys drug charges. Without carefully examining the circumstances of each individual who might have had a scrape with the law, an unjust system results where someone who received a minor sentence with no jail time for a relatively minor offense, is forbidden from working as an Uber or Lyft driver. That isn’t fair – but to prevent that outcome, takes a lot more work, time and research to delve deeply and thoroughly into each driver’s background history. The state is already strapped for cash, and the last thing the DPU is going to get from the legislature, is a substantial increase in its budget to hire the substantial staff additions it would take to conduct these more thorough investigations.
The solution? The drivers who want these jobs should pay an additional fee to the state DPU, to allow for the hiring of the additional staff necessary to conduct these more detailed case histories. I don’t know exactly how much such a fee would have to be – perhaps $200 or more, but that’s the way it has to be, whether drivers like or not.
The public’s safety is too important. Consider: Being a passenger in the back of a car with a stranger driving is akin to being in a closed room with that stranger. But even more dangerous is that the “room” is a motor vehicle – and the driver can suddenly take that passenger to a remote area and do God knows what with him or her. And with 81,000 ride-hailing drivers in this state alone, that risk is too high.