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Bill to address ride-sharing user safety passes NC committee

By GARY D. ROBERTSONJune 4, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Spurred by the slaying of a college student in neighboring South Carolina, lawmakers in North Carolina are working on new rules for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to make users feel safer and know when drivers are legitimate.

The House Transportation Committee unanimously approved a proposal Tuesday. Among other things, it would require drivers to display their license tag numbers on a sign at the front of their vehicles. Ride requesters can match the numbers with the tag information that companies already send them through their apps. The actual license tag is often on the back of the vehicle only.

The bill comes after the March death of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, who police say got into the car of an Uber driver impersonator in Columbia, South Carolina. Josephson, who was from New Jersey, was killed and her body dumped in the woods 65 miles (105 kilometers) away. A man has been charged with kidnapping and murder in the case.

The legislation, combined with efforts to encourage self-awareness by passengers, can help prevent more tragedies, said House Majority Leader John Bell, who is shepherding the bill.

Colleges “have become target grounds across the country for people trying to take advantage of the rideshare platforms and lure their victims,” said Bell, a Wayne County Republican. “We believe this is a critical step in public safety.”

Under the bill, drivers also would have to display the company’s logo so that it can be read from 50 feet away during daylight hours and so the company’s trademark emblem is illuminated at night.

South Carolina legislators removed a similar logo sign mandate from their own bill that was signed into law last month. Uber has discouraged the requirement for the lighted company signs — which can be found for sale online — saying it could actually increase risks if it lulls passengers into false security.

Uber has similar concerns about the logo sign requirement in the North Carolina legislation, company spokeswoman Evangeline George said in an email. Both Uber and Lyft also provide other information to customers, such as driver photos and car information.

The bill wouldn’t require the illuminated logo signs until July 2020. The delay, Bell said, would give time for a proposed legislative commission to work out any other challenges to the law. Technology associated with illuminated logo signs also is being addressed, he said.

“There’s still work to be done on the bill,” he told reporters.

Lyft supports the ideas laid out in the bill and the company shares the goal “of ensuring rides are safe for all members of our community,” spokeswoman Campbell Matthews said.

Impersonating a driver would be a misdemeanor in the bill, but it would be elevated to a felony if the fake motorist commits a separate felony crime. An amendment from Durham County Democrat Marcia Morey won approval, increasing the minimum age for ride-sharing drivers from 19 to 21. Lyft and Uber already set a minimum age of 21, the companies said.

The bill, which next goes to another House committee, also sets aside $100,000 for the University of North Carolina system to carry out an awareness campaign about what ride-sharing drivers must provide to customers to prove their identity.

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