Spurred by the killing of a South Carolina college student, Uber is rolling out new features it says will keep riders safe.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Tony West, Uber’s chief legal and security officer, said the company’s app will push out an alert for riders to check the license plate, make and model of the vehicle — as well as the name and picture of the driver — to confirm it’s the correct person picking them up. West said the Uber app will also prominently display new safety notifications.
The changes come just over two weeks after the murder of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, 21, who was last seen on March 29 getting into a car she thought was her Uber ride.
Her body was later found in a wooded area 65 miles away. The car’s driver, Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, faces kidnapping and murder charges.
“We are heartbroken about what has happened,” West told NBC News in an interview that aired Thursday on TODAY. “For us, it’s a reminder that we have to constantly do everything we can to raise the bar on safety.”
The South Carolina House of Representatives passed the Samantha Josephson Ridesharing Safety Act on April 9 requiring drivers from ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, to display illuminated signs in their vehicles. The bill is now up for approval by the South Carolina Senate.
It’s not the first time that fake Uber drivers have become an issue. Three women in Los Angeles have filed a lawsuit against the company alleging they were sexually assaulted by men posing as Uber drivers outside bars and nightclubs, leading to questions over whether the company has done enough to warn riders about men posing as Uber drivers.
Uber’s response to Samantha Josephson’s death has been to create a new alert system that will begin rolling out in South Carolina on Thursday, and then across the rest of its user base in the coming days.
“In the app, when you’ve ordered your Uber, when it’s on the way, you will get more persistent, more frequent notifications, push notifications, to your phone that remind you to check your ride,” West said.
When you first open the app, a banner at the bottom says “check your ride every time.” After ordering a ride, users will be sent a second warning to check the driver’s license plate, car details and photo. A third notification will then appear before the driver arrives — this one a push alert — again reminding the rider to check and make sure it’s the correct ride.
The company says it also will be working with universities nationwide to develop dedicated pick-up zones on and off campus and a ride voucher program to provide subsidized rides for students at times when other ways home are limited or unavailable.
Kelly Nantel, vice president of communications and advocacy at the National Safety Council, said she supports the new measures.
“The more information you can give to customers, the better,” Nantel said. “As ride shares increase, I think it’s really important that riders have confidence not just in the safety of the vehicle, but also in their security. I think these are steps that move this industry in the right direction.”
West acknowledged that people sometimes use the app while drunk. He said the company factored that in while devising the new features.