“Don’t get into cars with strangers.”
Once a fixture on posters and PSAs, the phrase seems to be another casualty of modern society, suddenly antiquated in a world where it’s now commonplace for millions to virtually summon rides from people they don’t know.
But lawmakers in New York seemed to have that advice in mind recently while hammering out last-minute tweaks to legislation allowing ride-hailing apps to operate statewide at the end of the month.
The policymakers voted last week to block sex offenders from driving for companies like Uber and Lyft, just ahead of the June 29 start date for ridesharing in New York.
And while the legislation still allows for strangers to pick up passengers in the Empire State, it gives regulators more control over who, exactly, those strangers can be.
The original rules rolling out the welcome mat for such apps in New York—approved this April as part of the state’s budget—prohibited Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from participating as drivers. Those designations are considered more serious in New York.
Still, that draft allowed certain lower-level offenders to drive for rideshare apps, if at least 7 years had passed since they had been released from prison for the crime.
The new legislation would not only disallow Level 1 offenders from earning a rideshare license; it would also maintain the ban for as long as they’re considered sex offenders. Even in those lower-level cases, the legal label sticks to an offender for about a 20-year period following the incident.
The rule-tightening measure comes on the heels of another tweak to the legislation passed by the state government recently to speed up the kickoff date for the apps by 10 days, in order to allow the companies to cash in on the upcoming 4th of July weekend.
While Uber and Lyft each require background checks as part of their driver-approval process, states can levy additional parameters on who can work for rideshare apps—and the discrepancies they find can be troubling.
After Massachusetts mandated stricter background checks on ride-hail drivers earlier this year, 8,200 rideshare employees were banned in the state—all of whom had already passed background checks for their respective companies.
Most of those incidents centered around previous license suspensions or low-level driving offenses that hadn’t been picked up, but the background checks also yielded more than 300 drivers who had felony convictions on their criminal records—and 51 registered sex offenders.
In New York, legislators are hoping to close that loophole all together. The bill is currently on the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has until the month’s end to sign off on the statute.