Ridesharing Background Checks

In 2016 the legislature passed a law to regulate ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.  The bill  “An Act regulating transportation network companies” requires, among other things, inspections, minimum insurance coverage, background checks, and creates a state regulator.  The Transportation Network Company (TNC) Division of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) regulates the industry and is funded by a surcharge on the ridesharing companies.

In response to concerns about public safety, driver background checks were required as part of the new law.  Pursuant to §4 of the new law, all drivers must be licensed and meet minimum age requirements and insurance requirements.  Additionally, the TNC is required to conduct at least 2 background checks per year. The TNC must immediately remove a driver if a background check finds that they do not meet the minimum suitability standards determined by regulation.  A driver cannot be approved to drive if there is an open or unresolved criminal proceeding, motor vehicle violation or outstanding warrant that would violate the suitability standard.  No driver can be approved to drive if they appear in the National Sex Offender Registry.

Per the requirements of the statute, a driver cannot be approved if they have had a conviction in the past 7 years for: 1) a sex offense or violent crime as defined in §133E of chapter 127 2) a crime under section 24 of chapter 90 [OUI] or have been assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance program by a court; (3) leaving the scene of property damage or personal injury caused by a motor vehicle; (4) felony robbery; or (5) felony fraud.  Further, they cannot be approved if they have a driving record that includes more than 4 traffic violations or any major traffic violation, as defined by the division of insurance, in the past 3 years.

The statute also required the DPU to promulgate regulations regarding driver suitability.  The DPU regulations for driver suitability are far more severe than the the statutory disqualifiers.  Like the statute, the regulations use the concept of a look-back period to determine driver suitability.  If a driver commits a certain proscribed offense within a certain time frame, they are disqualified from driving.  The driver suitability regulations are found in 220 CMR 274.21.  After the new regulations took effect, thousands of drivers were disqualified due to infractions that were not classified as disqualifying under the statute, but are under the regulations.

Under the DPU regulations, if the offense does not result in incarceration, the look-back period starts on the date of the final disposition of the offense.  If the disposition results in incarceration, the look-back period starts on the date of release. Look-back periods for motor vehicle offenses start on the date of finding of the offense. If the violation results in a license suspension, the look-back period starts on the date of the end of the suspension.  A proscribed offense committed within the look-back period is a mandatory disqualification from driving.  A continuance without a finding for a disqualifying offense is a mandatory disqualification if it occurred within seven years, and a presumptive disqualification if it occurred more seven years ago.  Additionally, per the regulations, the DPU has discretionary authority to disqualify any applicant “if reliable information demonstrates that a Driver acted in a manner that resulted in jeopardy to the health, safety, or welfare of any person, or that a Driver’s provision of Services is not consistent with the public interest.”  Such a finding would result in a presumptive disqualification.

Whether a disqualification is mandatory or presumptive is relevant to the standard of review for appeals.  Appeals of mandatory disqualifications are limited to whether a genuine issue of material fact exists on the records received by the division.  Appeals of presumptive disqualifications, including discretionary disqualifications, entitle the driver to a hearing where they may submit evidence their behalf.

The following table compares the look-back periods required by statute and regulation:

 Duration of Disqualification Statutory Disqualifiers Additional Regulatory Disqualifiers
3 Years no more than 4 traffic violations or any major traffic violation, as defined by the division of insurance no more than 4 traffic violations or any major traffic violation, as defined by the division of insurance
5 Years   any suspension of a driver’s license for reasons related to the operation of a motor vehicle
7 Years sex offense or violent crime as defined in section 133E of chapter 127; (2) a crime under section 24 of chapter 90 [OUI] or been assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance education, treatment or rehabilitation program by a court; (3) leaving the scene of property damage or personal injury caused by a motor vehicle; (4) felony robbery; or (5) felony fraud; and felony convictions (with an available maximum penalty of more than 2½ years’ imprisonment), felony fraud, OUI, violent & abuse related offenses, a crime involving the illegal use or possession of weapons
10 Years   Habitual Traffic Offender license suspension
Indefinite appear on the National Sex Offender Registry  Felony robbery, multiple driving offenses (two or more of certain defined offense), serious bodily injury motor vehicle offenses, sexual conduct & abuse-related offenses, “violent crime” pursuant to M.G.L. c. 127, § 133E or M.G.L. c. 140, § 121 that is punishable by
ten years or more in state prison

As a result of the DPU regulations, many people who would have been eligible under the statute have been disqualified from driving.

Andrew Bettinelli
Chief of Staff
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

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Will Brownsberger
State Senator
2d Suffolk and Middlesex District