South Carolina House passes bill requiring Uber, Lyft signs after student's death

/ AP

Student killed after mistaking car for Uber

A lawmaker sponsoring a bill in South Carolina requiring Uber, Lyft and other ride sharing drivers to have a lighted sign said he knows it isn't a foolproof way to keep riders safe. But Rep. Seth Rose said it is an easy first step so a tipsy college student or distracted concertgoer can know without getting within arm's length of a vehicle whether it might be their ride.

The South Carolina House gave the bill key approval on a 99-1 vote Tuesday. It faces one more routine vote before it heads to the Senate.

Rose filed the bill just days after police said 21-year-old University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson got into what she thought was her Uber ride on March 29. She got into the black Chevrolet Impala without checking its license plate or having the driver say her name, authorities said.

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The driver had the backseat child locks on, trapping Josephson, who was killed and her body dumped in the woods, authorities said.

The death stunned people across the country. Several bills and proposals were filed in South Carolina the week after Josephson's death, including one saying lawmakers wouldn't stand in the way of local governments passing their own laws on ride sharing safety including designated spots for riders to be picked up.

Another bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Beth Bernstein of Columbia would allow someone to be charged with attempted kidnapping if they tried to imitate being a driver with a ride sharing app, even if they never picked anyone up. Neither Uber nor Lyft answered emails seeking comment about the bills.

Samantha Josephson Family handout

Legislators can't solve the ride-sharing safety problem on their own, noted Lauren Fix, who covers ride-share safety as part of her Car Coach reports on automobiles. Fix said it is up to riders to make sure they take steps such as checking the license tag of the car, checking the driver's photo ID and asking the driver to recite the rider's name and destination.

The illuminated signs can be found online, which lessens the safety impact of the proposal, Fix said.

"You can put a million checks in. But bad people are going to do bad things if you let them," Fix said. "Follow your gut. If it doesn't feel right, don't get in."

Rose, a Democrat from Columbia in his first term, acknowledged that his bill is not foolproof. He said people can also find UPS or FedEx delivery uniforms or utility uniforms online, but the employees still wear them to identify themselves.

"This is just a first step," he said.

Rose's bill would require Uber, Lyft and other ride share drivers to show an illuminated company-provided sign when on duty and turn it off when off duty. They would be required to return the sign to the company when they no longer work at the firm or provide a sworn statement about what happened to the sign. The companies would have to report the name and address of any worker who did not return the sign.

Rose said he is willing to listen to possible changes to the bill. He would like the lighted signs to include a beacon that could change colors to match a color given to the customer on the ride sharing app. Rose said companies already voluntarily use the technology in large cities so people can more quickly find their ride in places where there are a swarm of cars, such as at outside concerts.

Rose also thinks Uber and Lyft drivers should have to have front license plates in South Carolina, but said he knows he can't get that passed before the session ends in early May.

The burden of staying safe will always be on riders to make sure they are getting in the right car and this bill isn't meant to solve the entire problem, just add a layer of safety, Rose said.

"We may only stop the laziest of murders and the laziest of psychopaths," Rose said. "But saving a life is worth it."

First published on April 9, 2019 / 7:27 PM

© 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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