Popular and fast-growing companies like Uber and Lyft have advertised themselves as superior in nearly every way to traditional taxi services. Not least among these lofty claims is the assertion that they are safer than taxis.
This may or may not be true. What is true is that Uber and Lyft generally do not require their drivers to submit to the kinds of background checks that local and state regulators require for taxi operators. These companies can hardly claim to be a cut above the others when they have failed to meet even baseline standards.
The importance of strong background checks was underscored by news that a driver working for Uber in New Delhi has been accused of raping a passenger. In San Francisco, a driver who was working for Uber struck and killed a 6-year-old girl last year on New Year’s Eve. In both cases, the drivers had driving or arrest records that should have sent up red flags. (Uber has said it does not conduct criminal background checks on drivers it uses in India and has suspended its service in Delhi while it reviews that policy.)
Companies like Uber and Lyft insist that they screen drivers carefully and that the private security firms they use are as good or better than the traditional fingerprint-based background checks regulators have long used. The security firms, they say, check driving histories, court files, sex-offender registries and other public records. Such background checks, Uber and Lyft argue, can be completed in a day or two,...