Politics & Government

SC House passes rideshare bill after USC student’s death, despite Uber’s concerns

How the Samantha Josephson death investigation unfolded

University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was kidnapped and killed when she got into a car she thought was her Uber ride. See how the investigation unfolded and how the community responded to her death.
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University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was kidnapped and killed when she got into a car she thought was her Uber ride. See how the investigation unfolded and how the community responded to her death.

The S.C. House on Tuesday voted to require Uber and Lyft drivers to display illuminated signs that make them easier to identify, less than a week after a University of South Carolina student was killed after she mistook the wrong car for her Uber.

The House passed the bill 99-1 over the objections of Uber, a national rideshare company that says the illuminated signs — which can be purchased cheaply online — could actually heighten the risk of imposter drivers. The bill also has drawn skepticism from national rideshare safety experts.

“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re not paying attention,” said Lauren Fix, a New York-based automotive expert who says riders can only guarantee their safety by verifying the driver’s name, license plate number and car model matches their pickup. “I could buy one of those (illuminated signs) online at Amazon for $5. A bad person knows how to beat the system. That’s the problem.”

The bill, H. 4380, soon will head to the state Senate, where Uber is sure to lobby to change or defeat it.

“We’re committed to working with legislators, as well as the University of South Carolina, to keep students safe and want to ensure riders take the most effective steps to stay safe,” Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George wrote in a statement Tuesday. “We have some safety concerns about the legislation as currently written, and hope to work collectively with the South Carolina Legislature to put safety first.”

The proposal’s sponsors — state Reps. Seth Rose, D-Richland, and Micah Caskey, R-Lexington — downplayed those concerns.

They say the illuminated signs would allow riders to quickly tell whether a car is an on-duty rideshare before moving on to verify that the ride is theirs.

“The presence of that logo is not what makes the ride safe,” Caskey said, adding Uber simply doesn’t want to pay to supply illuminated lights for its drivers. “We’re just saying, at night time, let’s let people see that logo so we can begin the process of verifying the ride.”

He continued: “No amount of technology can alleviate that responsibility.”

The bill was one of several proposals filed at the State House after 21-year-old USC student Samantha Josephson was kidnapped outside of a Five Points bar in the early hours of March 29 after getting into a black car she thought was her Uber ride. The New Jersey native was found dead the next day by turkey hunters in rural Clarendon County.

Police have charged 24-year-old Nathaniel Rowland with kidnapping and killing Josephson. Authorities said her body was found near where Rowland lives.

The tragedy has left the USC community on edge, with students taking more precautions while hailing a ride and others avoiding the downtown Five Points area altogether.

Lyft has not responded to a request for comment.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He is currently filling in as an editor of The State’s award-winning State House team. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.


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