The United States Law Week

INSIGHT: Ridesharing Safety Laws Are a Start, But Tech Changes Needed

Sept. 19, 2019, 8:01 AM

Millions of rideshare passengers entrust drivers they have never met to get them to and from home, school, and work safely and without delay. However, it only takes one unscrupulous mind to take advantage of trusting passengers to compromise their safety and security.

Efforts are underway in the states and in Congress to pass laws to address ride-sharing safety problems but ride-sharing companies also face public pressure is also on them to address safety concerns. They also face liability issues involving negligence; personal injury, property damage and wrongful death; and harassment and sexual assault.

State Laws in South Carolina, New Jersey, North Carolina

Unfortunately, in the case of 21-year-old University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, that’s exactly what happened. Her disappearance, kidnapping, and gruesome murder has led a number of states to pass laws aimed at protecting riders who use rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft. South Carolina lead the charge by enacting the Samantha L. Josephson Ridesharing Safety Act.

New Jersey followed suit with a similar law, dubbed “Sami’s Law,” named after Josephson. The law takes effect in March 2020 and mandates that rideshare drivers visibly display illuminated signs and digital barcodes in their windshield.

The penalty? A $250 fine.

In August, North Carolina’s Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the Passenger Protection Act into law to protect passengers.

Similar to New Jersey’s law, the PPA also requires rideshare drivers to visibly display illuminated signage in their windshields, but also requires their license plate number on the front of the vehicle.

The PPA makes it a felony to impersonate a rideshare driver.

In addition, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has been simultaneously working on passing an equivalent of Sami’s Law at the federal level, recently introducing “Sami’s Law,” in the House. The bill was recently referred to the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

Under the bill, drivers would have to display the company’s logo so that it can be visibly read from 50 feet away during daylight hours, and the company’s trademark emblem must be illuminated at night.

Too Little, Too Late?

Heinous tragedies like Ms. Josephson’s are entirely preventable. While these current laws are a step in the right direction, industry leaders aren’t entirely convinced.

With online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, some drivers believe the requirement of having a glowing signage can be abused by individuals who can simply order custom signs online and pose as a rideshare driver.

Also, think of an employee leaving their place of employment—in almost all cases, they are required to return all company property (company-issued computers, laptops, mobile phones, etc.) back to the company, for security purposes.

For rideshare drivers who no longer drive or work for the company, there should be an enforceable requirement that they return their illuminated signage and company logos to the company. Unfortunately, many drivers out there no longer work for the company and still display the logos on their windshields.

Having personally been a driver for both Uber and Lyft while in law school to make some extra cash, I can tell you, I had those company-issued stickers on my car for a few years. I haven’t driven in quite some time. The signage is no longer on my vehicle.

Tech Innovators Provide Potentially Effective Solutions

Where the lawmakers are scrambling to catch up, the market may have solutions:

  • Internal Security Mechanisms. I spoke with Jeremy Kaplan, editor-in-chief for Digital Trends, and he indicated that companies like Lyft could be doing more, like making a panic button on the app easier to surface. “Ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber have checks baked in to help riders identify their driver, such as a description of the vehicle and the license plate,” Kaplan pointed out to me. “But they could do more. Lyft could make it easier to surface a panic button on the app—just in case. But overall, riders need to use more common sense too—be smart before stepping into someone else’s car.”
  • Implementing Corporate Responsibility. The founder and CEO of ridesharing app ScoopM, Diondre Lewis, told me rider safety is first and foremost an issue of corporate responsibility. “We have the technology for safe rideshares,” Lewis said. The company’s app requires drivers to install live-streaming dash cams so loved ones can check on riders in real-time and makes FBI background checks a mandatory prerequisite. Each passenger is assigned a “color swatch” that must match with the color on the driver’s phone.
  • Ultrasonic Technology. I spoke with LISNR, a data platform that transmits information through audio signals you can’t hear. It is using their proprietary ultrasonic technology to connect users’ phones to old school yellow taxis, which are already safer by being more heavily regulated. In its press release, the company describes a potential partnership between RideYellow users and any standard taxi-vehicle, emphasizing the continued importance of hailing business from “walk-ups.”

State and federal legislators deserve applause for acting on behalf of the safety of the ridesharing public. But we need stronger, more effective solutions than the ones they’re presenting, and we need them before any more tragedies occur.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Andrew Rossow is an internet and technology attorney, an adjunct cybersecurity law professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio, and a media consultant for ABC, FOX, and NBC in Ohio. He provides a unique perspective on new, emerging technologies, social media crimes, privacy implications, and digital currencies.

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