A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered serious new concerns surrounding the growing number of local teens using rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft. Both companies' rules ban unaccompanied minors.
Still, countless local teens find ways around those rules, often with their parents' blessing. If you're thinking: "So what? The companies do background checks on their drivers," we spoke to police and local elected leaders who say they're worried.
In December, Gwinnett police charged Uber driver, Abdoulie Jagne with raping an intoxicated 16-year-old female rider.
Cobb County police say Lyft driver Jerome Booze raped a 20-year-old woman in December 2016.
[Girl] “Is there an age limit for, like, passengers you can pick up?”
[Driver] “No, no, no.”
[Driver] “As long as you got money to pay.”
The driver either didn't know or didn't care about Lyft company rules that prohibit unaccompanied minors.
Uber has the same 18-and-older policy but this is what this driver told the teens: "I pick up some kids, you know, no more than 15, you know.”
Yep, the driver was cool with 15. With their parents permission, Zach Mobley, 16, and Sierra Isley, 17, helped us test Uber and Lyft's underage limits.
“We were like literally right on high school property, so I don’t know why else we would be standing outside, like, yeah, that’s definitely a red flag,” Isley said.
But they were never once turned down and never out of our sight. Mobley and Isley quizzed each Uber and Lyft driver who picked them up.
[Mobley] “Is that a rule that you have to be 18 to get an Uber?
[Driver] “You probably have to be over 18 to provide them with, uh, payment information…
[Kids] “Ohhhh yeah…”
[Driver] “But I know parents that have, you know, just put Uber on their kids’ phone.”
Parents who do that risk getting banned by Uber and Lyft. But one driver told the kids in reality, “Nobody knows what’s your age.”
Uber and Lyft both say the companies run their own background checks on all their drivers but police have a warning.
"With anything out there where you put yourself at the mercy of someone else, there's always a potential for possible danger," said Sgt. Wayne Delk with the Cobb County Police Department.
In December, Gwinnett police charged Uber driver Abdoulie Jagne with raping an intoxicated 16-year-old female rider.
Cobb County police say Lyft driver Jerome Booze raped a 20-year-old woman in December of 2016.
While there are no official numbers, the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association tracked hundreds of incidents attributed to Uber and Lyft drivers worldwide including:
- 47 deaths since 2014.
- 91 alleged assaults since 2013.
- 350 sexual assaults.
- 16 kidnappings.
"I would never use that type of service not knowing who was picking me up," said state Rep. Alan Powell, (R) Hartwell.
Powell, chair of the Georgia House Public Safety Committee, is still fighting for a state law requiring all rideshare drivers to submit fingerprints for an official state background check.
"The state and the public is taking Uber's word that they have scrutinized their drivers. That they've done a full background check on them," Powell said. "And that's fine if they do it, but I don't know that they're doing it."
When Massachusetts enacted a new background check law last year, more than 8,200 of the state's 71,000 rideshare drivers failed -- including 51 sex offenders and 334 convicted felons.
Right now, Uber is fighting a nearly $9 million state fine in Colorado for allowing dozens of unqualified drivers on the road, including 12 felons.
But for Isley, the bottom line is, “I do think that there needs to be some sort of safety measure in place more than there is right now."
Mobley agreed saying, “You just got to be careful and be safe.”
Both Uber and Lyft sent us statements for this report.
Uber told us it asks its drivers to report underage riders and added "When we confirm that an Uber rider account has been created by a minor, we deactivate the account immediately. Account holders who allow unaccompanied minors to use their account may also be deactivated."
This is how Uber explained its background check screenings with Channel 2 Action News:
All drivers must undergo a screening process before they can use the Uber app, which includes a driving and criminal history background check reviewing local, state and national records. This review process is completed by a third-party background check service that is accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.
The screening process requires an applicant’s full name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, a copy of his or her driver’s license, vehicle registration, vehicle insurance, and a valid bank account.
In addition, the screening checks a wide source of indicators to identify places associated with the individual - where they’ve lived, worked, may have had a law enforcement encounter, received utility bills, or even had a magazine subscription.
A social security trace is used to identify addresses associated with the potential driver, and courthouse records in all of the identified areas are searched for criminal records associated with the potential driver. The screening process also checks the potential driver’s driving and criminal history in a series of national, state and local databases. These include the US Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website (a check of the national site automatically checks information from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories), the PACER database (which covers federal courts), several databases used to flag suspected terrorists, and a national criminal database that is used to flag potential criminal activity throughout the United States (including in counties where the individual has never lived or worked) for additional review at the local courthouse level.
Meantime, a Lyft spokesperson told us, "Drivers have our support in declining or canceling rides for those not following Lyft's policies."
© 2019 Cox Media Group.