COLUMBIA — Drivers for Uber and other ride-booking companies would have to display their license plate number in the front windshield under changes to a bill aimed at helping riders identify the correct vehicle following the death of a 21-year-old University of South Carolina student.
Senators advanced the bill Tuesday after replacing what started in the House as a lighted logo requirement.
Authorities say Samantha Josephson was killed last month after getting in the back seat of a vehicle she mistook as her Uber ride following a night out with friends in the Five Points district.
"This woman’s tragic death has shown light on this issue," said Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, adding that while he understands where House members' "heads were at" and agreed with their attempt to help connect drivers to riders, he also understands the companies' concerns to requiring a lighted logo.
Trevor Theunissen, a regional spokesman for Uber, said the bill as passed by the House 99-1 could generate a false sense of security over something that could be counterfeit.
"If consumers get in the habit of looking at stickers" instead of double-checking the info on their ride provided in the smartphone app, "we're playing right into the hands of criminals," he said.
That information includes the driver's name, and the vehicle's make, model, color and license plate number.
Theunissen recounted the safety features Uber rolled out last week, which include reminding riders through push notifications to check that the information matches before getting into a vehicle — a feature that began Thursday in Columbia.
The company is also partnering with the University of South Carolina in identifying a designated pickup zone in Five Points staffed by law enforcement.
"I do think much of this is consumer education and certainly checking the license plate number is the most critical piece," said Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville.
South Carolina is among 19 states with only a rear license plate, requiring the rider to step behind a vehicle to check the number.
"Having it in front will make a big improvement," said Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek.
Since the state Department of Motor Vehicles will not print two license plates for a single vehicle, the amended bill requires drivers to duplicate their plate number in any way they choose, as long as it's legible, and the numbers are at least 2 inches tall.
That could include putting stickers on a sheet of paper or putting removable adhesive numbers directly on the windshield, McElveen said.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Seth Rose, said he's OK with the change, as making a step toward improving safety, though the Columbia Democrat still thinks the lighted logos would do a better job of helping drivers connect with their rides, especially in the dark.