Ride-share services have made access to transportation in the U.S. easier. With a press of a few buttons on a smartphone, commuters can get an instant chauffeur. Some North Carolina lawmakers also want to make sure that the process is safer.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will review a bill on Monday that will increase regulations on ride-sharing platforms such as Uber and Lyft. The proposed legislation comes after the kidnapping and killing of a University of South Carolina student who got into a car that she mistook for an Uber. The incident has also influenced policy changes in other states.
“We had a public safety concern around some of the issues we are having around the ride share and the ride-sharing platforms around the country,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, in his presentation of the bill last month. “Unfortunately, a very tragic event brought this to the forefront down in South Carolina.”
The college student, Samantha Josephson, was found dead in a wooded area in Columbia, S.C., in March. Surveillance showed Josephson getting into a vehicle that police said was driven by Nathaniel D. Rowland.
Critics say Uber and Lyft have lax background checks of drivers. A Lyft driver in Arizona was arrested on June 27 after authorities said he sexually assaulted and kidnapped a female passenger during a trip.
Dubbed the Passenger Protection Act, the North Carolina law would require ride-share drivers to make their license plates visible from the front of the vehicle. This will allow the passenger to compare the license plate number with the number listed on the app. The drivers would also be required to display signage with a symbol of the service platform. It also would make it a criminal offense to impersonate a driver and change the minimum driver age requirement from 19 to 21.
The bill is set to be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon. If approved, the measure will be then routed to the Senate Transportation Committee. It was unanimously approved by the House on June 27 and received outward bipartisan support.
“Proud to support this piece of legislation,” Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, wrote on Twitter.
The law would also protect drivers.
Passengers who assault drivers would be looking at facing a harsher sentence. The offense would upgrade from a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine to a misdemeanor with a maximum of 150 days in jail and a discretionary fine. The judicial changes would take effect on Dec. 1.
The Passenger Protection Act also calls for a safety study of the ride-sharing industry in North Carolina and a $500,000 investment into an awareness campaign for college students.