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Why Uber Should Let the Government Do Its Background Checks

Despite the company's protests, it wouldn't be stifled by requiring drivers to get standard commercial licenses
relates to Why Uber Should Let the Government Do Its Background Checks
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The process Uber uses to screen prospective drivers has come under scrutiny again this week. It started when a passenger in New Delhi accused her Uber driver of rape, leading to a nationwide ban of the car service in India. Then came a lawsuit from Los Angeles and San Francisco, which accused Uber of misleading passengers about the background checks for its drivers. 

Uber and Lyft, its main competitor, both maintain that they can do background checks as well as regulators. Each company contracts with a private vendor to screens potential drivers for past violations, a process that allows new workers to get on the road faster than a regulatory review could allow. Private background checks also fulfill a basic philosophical premise of the smartphone car services: to minimize official oversight, which is viewed as an impediment to innovation. An article in the New York Times on Wednesday outlines Uber's state-by-state battle to resist subjecting drivers to the same background checks that other professional drivers face. The company and its main rival could afford to let up on this crusade—and might actually benefit from doing so.