This past summer, a 15-year-old girl trying to get home from a party on Long Island got into an Uber. Although the ride-sharing company does not allow unaccompanied riders under the age of 18, teenagers frequently travel in Ubers alone and arrive home safely. However, this time the driver kidnapped the girl and tried to take her to Brooklyn, where he intended to sexually assault her.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The girl escaped after convincing the driver to stop so she could use a restroom and calling police, who later arrested the driver. But the headlines have been filled with similar stories and worse – with ride-hailing drivers being accused of robbery, rape, assault and even murder.
This raises the question: Are ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft safe? Or are you better off using a taxi or limousine service? Before you book your next ride, it is important to understand the extent to which for-hire vehicle services screen their drivers in order to help protect their passengers.
All Driver Background Checks are Not Created Equal
Professional limousine services are committed to fully vetting their drivers. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) requires driver background checks and certification for limousine drivers and rental car chauffeurs. The MVC certifies drivers based on the results of a fingerprint live scan for a State criminal background check. If a limo driver switches companies six months after they are qualified by the MVC, they must complete the process again. In addition, all professional ground transportation companies conduct face-to-face interviews and review each driver’s motor vehicle records.
While new drivers for ride share services and taxis must also undergo background checks, there is considerable debate about the process these services use. Studies have shown that background checks for taxi drivers vary widely from city to city and fingerprinting is not always mandatory. New York City may have some of the strictest restrictions for taxi drivers, requiring that they meet health standards and complete a defensive driving course.
Uber and Lyft claim they perform rigorous background checks on all drivers to ensure the safety of passengers. However, a comprehensive screening process should include a fingerprint-based background check as well as in-person interviews and drug and alcohol screening – none of which are part of the ride-hail vetting process. Recent investigations in Colorado and Massachusetts determined that the inadequate background checks of these companies have missed thousands of drivers with criminal backgrounds, and in some cases resulted in the dismissal of 11% of their workforce.
The National Limousine Association has called for legislation mandating fingerprint-based background checks and universal drug screening for all ride-hail company drivers. Until stricter driver vetting rules are put in place, riders of all ages are encouraged to think twice before using services like Uber and Lyft, and opt instead for one of New Jersey’s reputable limousine services to get you to your destination safely and surely – every time.