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Uber fined $8.9M in Colorado for bad background checks

Nearly 60 drivers had either criminal or motor vehicle offenses, according to state investigators. A dozen drivers had felony convictions.

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Uber's background checks face scrutiny. 

Uber

Uber is under fire again about whether its background checks are thorough enough.

Colorado regulators fined the ride-hailing company $8.9 million for allowing 57 drivers with criminal or motor vehicle offenses onto its network. One of the drivers was a convicted felon and habitual offender who used a fake name to sign up as an Uber driver, according to state officials.

"We have determined that Uber had background check information that should have disqualified these drivers under the law, but they were allowed to drive anyway," Doug Dean, director of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, CPUC, said in a statement on Monday. "These actions put the safety of passengers in extreme jeopardy."

Uber acknowledged that some drivers who shouldn't have been allowed on its service had been approved. The company blamed the problem on an error in its background check process and has deactivated some driver accounts as part of its fix.

"This error affected a small number of drivers and we immediately took corrective action," an Uber spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "We will continue to work closely with the CPUC to enable access to safe, reliable transportation options for all Coloradans."

Uber is one of the largest ride-hailing services on the planet, operating in 75 countries. As the company has grown, it's been criticized for allegedly letting criminals drive for it. Reports of alleged assault, rape and kidnapping by Uber drivers often make headlines.

A handful of other states, including California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas, have launched investigations into Uber, alleging the company routinely fails to adequately screen drivers and has hired drivers with criminal histories. At least half a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the company based on these allegations.

Colorado criminal investigators crosschecked Uber's driver records with information from the Colorado Crime Information Center and court databases. Of the 57 drivers they found, 12 had felony convictions and 17 had major moving vehicle violations, such as drunk or reckless driving. They also found 63 drivers with either a suspended, revoked or cancelled driver's license.

It's illegal in Colorado for people to commercially drive passengers if they have felony convictions, alcohol or drug-related driving offenses, unlawful sexual offenses or major moving vehicle violations. It's also required that ride-hailing companies check the backgrounds of their drivers for such offenses.

"PUC staff was able to find felony convictions that the company's background checks failed to find, demonstrating that the company's background checks are inadequate," Dean said. "In other cases, we could not confirm criminal background checks were even conducted by Uber."

The ride-hailing service uses an outside company called Checkr to do its background checks. It searches for felonies, violent crimes and sexual offenses over the past seven years. Most taxi drivers are required to have FBI fingerprint background checks.

Initially, Uber was uncooperative when the CPUC asked the company to hand over its driver records, the regulator said. In fact, a $2,500 portion of the fine against Uber is for the "failure to provide response within 72 hours of a request by an enforcement official," which is a civil penalty. 

The CPUC investigators also found evidence that at least four of the penalized drivers might still be driving for Uber, even though the company indicated that all drivers in question had been removed. 

Uber didn't respond to request for comment beyond its statement.

Colorado investigators said they conducted a similar inquiry into Lyft last year and found no violations. 

Uber can pay half of the fine within the next 10 days to resolve the case or it can contest it before an administrative law judge.

First published Nov. 21, 12:38 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:52 p.m. PT: Adds additional information from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

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