Law Blog

After Voting Against His Safe Ride Home, a California State Senator's Act of Irony and Hypocrisy Ends With a DUI

By Lonnie L. McDowell, Esq. and Michael C. McDonald, J.D., McDowell & Associates, Attorneys

In the early morning hours of Friday, August 22, 2014, California State Senator Ben Hueso, (D) San Diego, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol just hours after voting in favor of a bill that places heavy restrictions on the popular ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, according to dailycaller.com. The Daily Caller reported that the California Highway Patrol stopped Hueso after he drove the wrong way on a one-way street. His blood alcohol concentration was reportedly a 0.08, just above the legal limit.

If you don’t already know, over the last couple of years, Uber and Lyft have gained a strong and rapidly growing customer base. These services offer extreme convenience, more options for a ride, cheaper fares and, best of all, increased safety. These “taxi alternatives” are app-based and use GPS tracking that allows a customer to request a ride with a tap on his/her smartphone. Once a customer requests a ride, the customer receives a text with a picture of the driver and the vehicle, as well as the driver’s ratings given by previous passengers. And to ensure the passengers' safety, the driver inputs the passenger’s destination into the cars GPS system and the ride is tracked via the company’s logs.

So why would California State Senators oppose these services? The only logical explanation is money. To say that taxi companies strongly oppose the ride-sharing services would be an understatement. Taxi companies complain they have to pay for licenses and insurance to legally operate. Because Uber and Lyft are classified as “peer-to-peer transportation,” they avoid these fees, allowing Uber and Lyft to operate under their existing business model and cheaper rates than cabs. Not to mention much better service.

But Hueso claims Uber and Lyft should be heavily regulated to ensure the public’s safety. Assembly Bill 612, which passed 21 to 11, mandates that Uber and Lyft drivers have no criminal record and requires the drivers pass a background check and drug test before they can drive. What he fails to acknowledge is that all Uber and Lyft drivers already have to pass a background check before they are allowed to drive for either company. Each service requires a clean driving record, no convictions of violent crimes, sexual offenses, and they must all have current valid insurance. Drivers also cannot have any DUI’s - period. Currently it is possible to drive a taxi, even if you have had a DUI. In fact, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation System, the agency who licenses taxis in S.F., only refuses licenses to drivers who have had two DUI’s in a five year period.

The benefits of the ride-sharing services goes beyond the convenience and even safety of just the customers that use them. These services benefit everyone on the road. Since Uber and Lyft have been operating in California, the DUI arrest rate has gone down. The Washington Post reported that DUI rates have dropped in cities in which app-based car services operate all across the country, as well as here in California. Evidence shows, people are more likely to call Uber or Lyft, instead of a taxi, when they go out drinking. The convenience and lower rates are truly making the roads safer for all.

So again, why would Hueso vote against such a potential life-saving service? Could it be because Senator Hueso has a dog in this fight? See, the Senator’s brothers, Alfredo and Antonio Hueso, own a taxi company based in San Diego. By placing heavy regulation on Uber and Lyft in an attempt to stunt their rapid growth, Senator Hueso is taking care of the family, not the citizens he was elected to serve.

Of course, Senator Hueso apologized for his actions, stating, “I am truly and profoundly sorry for the unacceptable poor personal judgment which I demonstrated last night.” Was he talking about his decision to drive or the way he voted?

He also stated, “As someone who cares deeply about the public safety, I sincerely apologize to my family, my constituents and my colleagues in the Senate for breaching the trust they’ve all placed in me. I accept complete personal responsibility for my actions and punishments that ultimately come my way as a result of this incident. I will also engage in immediate, corrective actions to ensure this kind of personal conduct is never repeated.”

Senator Hueso certainly did not demonstrate that he cares deeply about the public safety when he voted against the very services that have dropped the DUI rates in the cities in which they operate then chose to drive under the influence. We cannot know what his “immediate, corrective actions” will be, but because of the way he and other like-minded California State Senators voted, it may not be much longer that Uber and Lyft can operate and make our roads safer for everyone. One thing we do know, however, is Senator Hueso now cannot get a job driving for Uber or Lyft. With his current DUI, he’ll have to be satisfied driving a taxi for his brothers when he leaves politics.