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Uber unveils new safety measures in wake of college student's murder

The company is asking users to make sure they double check their Uber driver's license plate, make and model of vehicle and photo.
/ Source: TODAY

Uber is rolling out new features it says will keep riders safe, and it unveiled the changes exclusively on TODAY Thursday.

Tony West, Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and Corporate Secretary at Uber, told NBC News' Stephanie Gosk that the Uber app will now prominently display in-app safety notifications and will push out an alert for riders to check the license plate, make and model of the vehicle, and name and picture of the driver to confirm it's the correct person picking them up.

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 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 Uber has done enough to warn riders about fake 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, name and photo.

A third notification will then appear before the driver arrives, again reminding the rider to check and make sure it’s their correct ride.

The company says it also will be working with universities nationwide to develop dedicated pickup 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.

Uber also has a list of safety tips for anyone using the service, including the following:

  • Request a ride inside and wait as long as you can before going outside to get into your ride.
  • Check the license plate, make and model of the car and the driver's picture that appear in the app.
  • Ask the driver to confirm your name before getting the car by asking, "Who are you here to pick up?"
  • Sit in the back seat so you can easily exit either side and have space between you and the driver.
  • Share your trip status with a friend or family member.
  • Trust your instincts, and if you feel you are in any danger, call 911 by using the emergency button located in the app, which also can provide your real-time location and trip details to share with the dispatcher.