New law meant to help protect ride-share passengers

One part of the Passenger Protection Act, a statute aiming to make ride-sharing safer for passengers in the state, went into effect Tuesday.

To follow the law, ride-share drivers will have to display a printed license plate number on the front of their vehicle. Drivers later will also be required to have illuminated signage in their vehicles. People charged with assault on a ride-share driver could also be charged with a misdemeanor. 

Currently, the biggest rideshare companies in the U.S. are Uber and Lyft. Both services are like modern-day taxis — users can access rides through the use of a smartphone app. Those who drive for either service use their own vehicle to pick up passengers. 

The law comes in response to the death of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, who was killed in March by someone impersonating her Uber driver. 

Albemarle resident Eric Laskowski has been driving for Uber and Lyft for four years. Laskowski said he has given rides to and from hospitals, grocery stores, businesses, bars and even Army bases. In one experience, he said he got to help a mother load Christmas presents into her car. 

“There’s just a vast array of different situations you find yourself in,” Laskowski said. 

Unfortunately, not all of Laskowski’s experiences have been positive. One late night, he got a notification of a ride near the area he was in. He pulled up to the house to find three women, two of whom were too intoxicated to keep their heads level. The third was attempting to look after the two.

The two drunk women managed to make their way into Laskowski’s car, only to pass out shortly after, he said. Laskowski still continued to their destination. Upon arrival, the women realized they didn’t have a key to their house. 

Some time later, Laskowski said he was able to get them to a safe place. He added a dash camera in his vehicle to monitor activity going on both inside and outside the car. Laskowski also uses the dash camera to protect himself, since he could be held liable for anything that happens when a passenger is in the car. 

“I got a great review from them, saying ‘hey, this guy went above and beyond the call,’ ” Laskowski said. “I have college-aged daughters, I would hate to think someone wouldn’t see my child through if they were in the same situation.” 

Uber and Lyft have added many features to their apps to keep passengers safe. When a driver agrees to pick up a rider, passengers can instantly access their user profile, which includes the driver’s picture, biography and license plate number. 

The profile also contains the driver’s rating. After a ride is complete, passengers are asked to rate their driver on a five-star scale, and provide comments about their experience. These ratings and comments remain on the driver’s profile for users of the app to access. 

To make his riders comfortable, Laskowski said he tries to talk to them to put them more at ease. He said a lot of times people are not in the mood to talk. Riding with a talkative passenger is the most fun to him, Laskowski said. 

“The biggest thing is just striking up that very honest, connected conversation,” Laskowski said. 

To get a job with Uber of Lyft, potential employees have to register their vehicle with the company, and provide proof of insurance. An extensive background check is also conducted for prospective employees, which prevents those convicted of violent crimes from driving for either company. 

In a press release, N.C. lawmakers said the new law being implemented is to keep drivers and passengers safe. However, it is still up to people to remain vigilant by checking the license plate number of their rides and asking the driver to say their name.

The new law will go into full effect July 1, 2020.