Criminal Background Checks coming to Uber Car

BOSTON (CBS) – A new Massachusetts law requires anyone who wants to drive for Uber or Lyft to pass a criminal background check. But some believe the state is disqualifying many drivers who should still be allowed on the road.

Update: Gov. Baker Reacts To I-Team Report

Erik Scott of Peabody is one of those drivers. He started with Uber to give him the flexibility he needed to care for his wife who has multiple sclerosis. It allows him the opportunity to earn a living without being away from her for too many hours at a time.

Scott tells us he spent 25 years in the financial industry and had no problem passing Uber’s background check last year. He assumed he would breeze through the new Massachusetts background checks as well. “My record is clean,” Scott told us.

But the Department of Public Utilities, the state agency that runs the background checks saw it differently, disqualifying Erik in an email citing his history of driving offenses and a violent crime that was later dismissed. “I’m not a convicted felon. I can vote. I can work. I have no charges pending against me,” he said. “I’m shocked.”

Erik Scott (WBZ-TV)
Erik Scott (WBZ-TV)
The 47-year-old shared his criminal history with the I-Team. In 1994 a charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon was continued without a finding and dismissed five months later. Two driving offenses from 2001 were also continued without a finding and later dismissed.

Attorney Jim Cipoletta told the I-Team this is not what the legislature intended. “It’s not fair,” he said. “One is that it was continued without a finding which is not a conviction and secondly a 22-year-old case should be far beyond the look back period,” he added.

Sources tell the I-Team Erik is not alone and that a significant number of drivers are getting caught up in the difference between what the law requires and what the Department of Public Utilities decided were disqualifying conditions.

State Representative Aaron Michelwitz helped to craft the legislation and he told us lawmakers may need to take another look. “If people are getting knocked out and shouldn’t be, we would go back and prevent those actions,” he said.

Erik Scott (WBZ-TV)
Erik Scott (WBZ-TV)
The Massachusetts law requires a check of the sex offender registry, a review of driver’s license records and a seven year look back on criminal records of conviction. The Department of Public Utilities increased that to include cases that were continued without a finding, whether they were ultimately dismissed or not. They also made the look back period unlimited on serious charges.

“As well intended as DPU might be, their actions do not comply with the statute,” said Cipoletta.

Erik Scott is hoping the Department of Public Utilities will now clear this issue up and let him get back out on the road.

“I don’t want someone with a violent crime driving me and my wife out to dinner, but if it’s dismissed, he should be able to make a living,” he said.

The Department of Public Utilities refused our repeated requests for an on camera interview and refused to provide the WBZ with the number of drivers who are failing the background checks. Uber tells us they are aware of the problem.

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