Politics & Government

SC lawmakers pass new Uber, Lyft safety rules after death of USC student

South Carolina soon could require Uber and Lyft drivers to display their license plate numbers on the front of their cars, as well as the back.

The S.C. Senate voted 40-0 Wednesday for the new requirements aimed at making it easier for riders to identify and verify their rideshare drivers during pickup. That push began in early April when University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was killed after she climbed into an unmarked car she thought was her Uber home from Columbia’s Five Points bar district.

H. 4380 is expected to sail through the House on Thursday after that chamber already passed a version of it last month. Then it will head to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster for his signature to become law.

“This is an easier way to protect consumers so they are easily able to identify the vehicle that they are getting in,” said state Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester.

State Reps. Seth Rose, D-Richland, and Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, originally filed a bill to require that Uber and Lyft drivers display illuminated signs on their dashboards so riders could quickly tell if the driver approaching them works for Uber or Lyft.

The bill passed the House overwhelmingly, but Uber and Lyft lobbied against it in the Senate — noting that those signs can be purchased for as little as $5 online by imposters seeking to kidnap or hurt an unsuspecting rider.

Senators scrapped the light-up signs in favor of a requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers make or buy their own signs displaying their license plate numbers somewhere on the front of their cars. Complying with the law could be as simple as penning their license tag numbers onto a sheet of paper and taping it to their windshields, senators said.

The new rules would go into effect 30 days after the governor signs the bill into law.

“I am very proud of the members of the House and Senate for responding so quickly to pass this important legislation,” said Rose, whose district includes Five Points.

Rose said he believes the light-up signs would have helped riders identify their rides before taking other steps to verify them. But he said the Senate’s version of the bill is still a positive step toward safer rides.

Uber has rolled out its own safety campaign since Josephson’s death explaining the steps riders can take to verify their rides, including checking the car’s model, the driver’s name and the license plate number.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. 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.