By some estimates, in 2017, there were around 147,000 Uber and a similar amount of Lyft drivers in California (because many drivers work for both companies, those numbers likely overlap). With so many rideshare drivers on the road, it’s inevitable that some might operate while drunk or high. Numbers are hard to track, but between August of 2014 and August of 2015, Uber received over 2,000 complaints from passengers who suspected their drivers were impaired.
Under California law, rideshare companies must maintain “zero-tolerance” policies against drunk or drugged driving. Potential drivers must undergo initial background checks followed by annual re-checks (including DMV records). And drivers convicted in the last seven years of driving under the influence (DUI), use of a motor vehicle to commit a felony, or any one of a number of similar offenses are barred from driving for rideshare companies.
As a result of these laws, Lyft has a policy that bans drivers with DUIs on their records for “a minimum of 7 years.” Similarly, Uber’s stated policy is to bar drivers with “major driving violations” (including DUI convictions) within the prior 7 years.
Rideshare companies are free to set stricter requirements for their drivers. And in practice, Uber and Lyft appear to be imposing a ten years DUI restriction—the length of time DUIs count as “prior convictions” in California. Neither company hires convicted felons, so drivers with felony DUIs are apparently barred for life.
Unlike taxi, bus, and other drivers who must obtain commercial driver’s licenses to transport passengers, rideshare drivers need only basic “Class C” licenses. Currently, one major difference between commercial and Class C licenses is that commercial drivers are subject to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .04% rather than the .08% limit that applies to Class C drivers.
However, beginning July 1, 2018, rideshare drivers will be subject to the .04% BAC limit whenever they are transporting paying passengers. In other words, it will be illegal to work as a rideshare driver with a BAC of .04% or more.
California requires all rideshare company websites, mobile apps, and receipts to reference the company’s zero-tolerance policies along with methods for reporting drivers. Apps must also include links to customer service or other simplified reporting features. Lyft and Uber encourage riders who suspect drivers of being impaired to immediately end the ride and report the driver to customer service. Lyft also encourages riders to call 911. (Also, read about how it works if you’re injured in an accident while in a rideshare vehicle.)
Rideshare companies must immediately suspend and investigate drivers who have been reported for driving under the influence.Apart from the consequences imposed by the rideshare company, Uber and Lyft drivers who are arrested for driving under the influence (based on impairment or having a BAC of .04% or more) face the same DUI penalties as any other offenders.