California regulators on Thursday adopted new safety rules for ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft that will not require their drivers be fingerprinted as part of background checks, rejecting a push by the taxi industry.
The California Public Utilities Commission in a meeting in San Francisco unanimously voted to approve the safety regulations it proposed last month after a year-long review spearheaded by the taxi industry.
Dave Sutton, a spokesman for a group that represents the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, called the decision "a mistake."
"The CPUC has made a mistake that may come back to haunt California riders," Sutton said.
It is generally up to local governments to conduct background checks on taxi drivers and those checks often include fingerprinting them. In California, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco all require taxi drivers to be fingerprinted, Sutton said.
He said that when a taxi driver is fingerprinted, those prints are reviewed by local law enforcement and the FBI.
"Law enforcement and experts agree that fingerprints-based background checks are far superior in terms of protecting passengers," he added.
But the CPUC disagreed, saying fingerprinting doesn't insure more safety to riders.
"Although we recognize the public's familiarity with fingerprinting, we do not see that a demonstratively greater level of safety would be added over and above the current background-check protocols," Commissioner Liane Randolph wrote.
The regulations, first announced Oct. 4, will require the ride-hailing companies to conduct annual screenings of drivers and that they use third-party agencies that are nationally accredited to run background checks.
In an effort to address safety concerns, California lawmakers in 2016 passed a law prohibiting ride-hailing companies from hiring drivers who are registered sex offenders or have been convicted of violent felony crimes.
Commissioners found commercial background checks "satisfy the Commission's public policy and safety objectives, and allow flexibility to meet the background requirements that the Legislature has mandated" and pointed out that people who submit their fingerprints via Livescan, a popular screening software, are not required to use a photo ID.
Furthermore, it said criminal records are only as accurate and up-to-date as the information provided by local courts and law enforcement agencies.
Uber and Lyft, which had argued fingerprinting drivers would be onerous and discriminatory against minorities, applauded the CPUC's decision.
"The safety and security of our riders and drivers is our top priority and today's CPUC decision recognizes the strength and effectiveness of our current background check process," Chelsea Harrison, Lyft's Senior Policy Communications Manager, said in a statement.
Uber said in a statement it was encouraged by the decision "which promotes both public safety and economic opportunity for California drivers."