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Uber driver screening faces scrutiny in New York terror attack

NYC suspect's background
NYC suspect's background 08:04

Uber's background checks are again in an uncomfortable spotlight after the company confirmed the suspect in the New York City terror attack had worked as one of its drivers. 

Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, 29, worked for Uber and passed a background check, the company told CBS. Uber is reviewing Saipov's history with the ride-share company, but hasn't yet identified any safety reports that would have raised concerns. 

Uber is trying to shake a number of scandals and customer concerns, ranging from a dysfunctional corporate culture that included allegations of sexual harassment to questions about its driver screening process. It's not the first time an Uber driver has ended up as a criminal suspect: Jason Brian Dalton, who allegedly shot eight people in Kalamazoo, Michigan, had worked for the ride-hailing app and passed its screening process. 

Saipov was arrested in a St. Louis, Missouri suburb in 2016 after he failed to appear in court for a ticket citing improper brakes on a commercial vehicle, according to the Kansas City Star. He was also cited in 2012 and 2015 for traffic violations, the publication said.

Uber and London 00:59

So what does Uber check when it searches an applicant's background? The company said its drivers go through a thorough screening process before they are given a greenlight. Local laws govern what must be searched in drivers' backgrounds, which means the criteria can differ from state to state. 

Broadly, Uber says its screening includes a review of motor vehicle records as well as a criminal background check. But some traffic violations won't immediately knock an applicant out of consideration, since Uber says that it bars people with "major" moving violations, such as DUIs or reckless driving, within the past seven years. 

Drivers with fewer than three "minor" moving violations within the last three years, which Uber described as a speeding ticket or a failure to obey traffic laws, can still pass Uber's background check. Given that leniency, it's possible Saipov's violations wouldn't have bumped him from the job. 

Uber also bans people with a conviction for a felony, violent crime or sexual offense within the last seven years. 

As for Saipov, Uber most recently screened him in July, when he passed its background check. He is believed to have become active on the Uber app just over six months ago -- with about 1,400 trips under his name -- and has been banned from the app.

"We are horrified by this senseless act of violence -- our hearts are with the victims and their families," an Uber spokesperson said. "We have reached out to law enforcement to provide our full assistance."  

Massachusetts recently changed its regulations to require Uber and rival ride-sharing apps to search drivers' entire history, rather than the most recent seven years. After the stricter regulations went into effect, about 10 percent of drivers failed to pass the screening. The largest number were turned away because of previously suspended licenses, while some had serious driving offenses. More than 300 had felony convictions and 51 were registered sex offenders. 

Uber faulted the new background process as too strict, stripping away workers' ability to earn a living. Massachusetts recently tweaked its rules to ease some of the restrictions, such as allowing drivers the opportunity to appeal rejections

London officials earlier this year said they planned to strip Uber of its operating license, citing the safety of passengers among their reasons for the move. Their stated concerns included how serious criminal offenses were reported and how background checks were obtained. Uber has appealed the decision.

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