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Like all Americans, I was shocked and heartbroken by the heinous and tragic murder of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson by someone impersonating her Uber driver. As I considered the pain that Samantha’s family must be feeling, I knew that something needed to be done to ensure that no one in North Carolina ever had to go through the same thing.
After a little research, I quickly realized this was not an isolated incident. If you follow the news, these sorts of stories were becoming far too common. An individual impersonating an Uber or Lyft driver assaulting their passengers and committing senseless crimes.
As elected officials, it is our duty to keep the public safe — and this was obviously an issue that needed to be addressed. That’s why I immediately went to work to find solutions to protect our citizens and make ridesharing safer in North Carolina.
After learning that the South Carolina legislature was also looking at this issue by requiring rideshare companies to display illuminated signs. I spoke with the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Seth Rose, about his approach and experience in addressing the problem of Uber and Lyft impersonators.
I decided to take that as our starting point and start a conversation in North Carolina about improving ridesharing. We engaged law enforcement, university administrators, business owners and students and brought a bipartisan group of legislators to the table to hear their feedback and input.
I also talked with Samantha’s parents, liaisons from rideshare companies and the public to ensure the legislation was balanced by safeguarding our citizens while not becoming burdensome on the rideshare industry.
In the end, the result was a comprehensive and targeted bill to help people properly identify their rides while also protecting drivers, educating the public and punishing those who seek to do harm.
Specifically, the bill would require the license plate information to be displayed on the front of the vehicle and the use of illuminated signs by July 1, 2020. In addition, there would be a new class of punishment for those who impersonate rideshare drivers, and grants for North Carolina community, private and public colleges and universities to share information on rideshare safety on campus, the places often targeted the most.
After all these discussions and committee meetings, I am proud to report that the bill passed the North Carolina House of Representatives June 27 with unanimous support — and is now making its way through the North Carolina Senate. Approving this bill is a huge step for public safety and I am hopeful my colleagues in the Senate will work with me to get this crucial bill to Governor Cooper’s desk.
While the Passenger Protection Act implements new safety measures, it is still up to individuals to remain vigilant by checking the license plate number of their rides, asking the driver to say their name and if they feel unsafe in a situation to contact local law enforcement.
Ultimately, you cannot prevent bad people from doing bad things, but these commonsense safeguards will help better inform our citizens and prevent such a tragedy from happening in North Carolina.
John Bell is the N.C. House majority leader. He represents the 10th District, which includes Wayne, Greene and Johnston counties.