Politics & Government

New NC law aims to make it easier to know which Uber or Lyft driver is yours

Drivers for rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft will have to display lighted signs with the company name and put their license plate number on the front of their vehicles, under a bill signed into state law on Friday.

The Passenger Protection Act aims to make it harder for someone to impersonate a rideshare driver by making it easier for riders to know they are getting into the car they summoned. The bill, which passed both the House and Senate without any no votes, also makes it a crime to impersonate a rideshare driver.

Rep. John Bell IV, a Republican from Wayne County, introduced the bill after the killing of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, who this spring got into an unmarked Chevrolet Impala she thought was her Uber ride home in Columbia. Police arrested the man they said was the driver of the Impala and charged him with kidnapping and murder.

“My goal this entire process has been to bring everyone to the table to identify real solutions that address the growing problem of rideshare impersonators who are exploiting this technology and targeting our most vulnerable citizens, particularly around college campuses,” Bell said in a statement after the legislature sent the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper last month.

“Ultimately, you cannot prevent bad people from doing bad things,” Bell said. “But these common sense safeguards will make it easier for people to properly identify their rides and help prevent such a tragedy from happening in North Carolina.”

North Carolina does not have a front-facing license plate on cars and trucks. The new law gives rideshare drivers until Oct. 1 to come up with a way to display the license plate number “in a legible and contrasting font no smaller than three inches in height” while they are offering rides. The goal is to make it easier for customers to confirm the approaching vehicle is the one identified by the app.

Starting Dec. 1, drivers without the front license plate number face a fine of $250.

While many rideshare drivers already display a lit sign with the company name and logo, known as “trade dress,” it will become mandatory on July 1, 2020.

The bill, which Cooper signed into law Friday, makes it a misdemeanor to impersonate a rideshare driver, either verbally or with a sign or logo. Impersonating a driver while committing a felony, such as kidnapping or assault, is a Class H felony, punishable by up to three years and three months in prison.

The law also makes it a misdemeanor to assault a rideshare driver.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.