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Uber, Lyft Background Checks Toughen Up To Protect California Riders

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- California ridesharing companies are facing stricter background checks in 2017.

Last year, the San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorney's offices did checks on some Uber drivers and found more than 20 who had been convicted of serious felonies.

Now a new law allows rideshare companies to see more of a driver's criminal history, and hold companies like Uber and Lyft accountable for what they find.

This started after the well-publicized attacks by Uber drivers.

Uber rider Kris Brix says she has been sexually assaulted twice by Uber drivers.

"I don't feel safe alone at night with Uber drivers," Brix said. "These people are not being vetted properly."

California law allows employers to look at the previous seven years as part of a background check, but on Jan 1, 2017 a new law will allow ridesharing companies to expand the background check to an driver's entire life.

Lyft and Uber did not oppose the new law.

Uber spokesman Will Gonzalez told the California State Assembly, "We are currently limited in state law to our background check to the seven year lookback. So we have had these instances where someone with a serious offense further back were on the platform, so with this bill we can look back for a lifetime."

The new law imposes a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 for each time a rideshare company is caught with a driver who is on a public sex offender database or who has ever been convicted of a violent felony or terrorism.

The companies also can't use drivers with certain misdemeanor convictions in the past seven years including: assault or battery, domestic violence, driving under the influence, bribery or extortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the law goes to far.

ACLU spokeswoman Maya Ingram told the California State Assembly, " old convictions can appear on these records, for which people have long served their time and been rehabilitated. It is important that we continue to provide re-entry opportunities for people following a conviction."

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, who wrote the bill, says being a driver is different from other jobs.

"It's individuals at their most vulnerable, especially a lot of women out there," Cooper said, noting that some people are even using Uber to shuttle their children around.

Taxi drivers have to be fingerprinted as part of their background checks and some members of the legislature want the same system used for rideshare services. But that did not make it into the final version of the bill.

Assemblyman Cooper said they would revisit this issue of fingerprinting for ridesharing companies if there continue to be problems.

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