Opinion

Using License Plate Verification to Enhance Ride-Hailing Safety

Ride-hailing has proven to meet consumer needs in a safe manner. But as on-demand transportation becomes more widely used, the number of incidents of crime has the potential to rise as well. Despite the low number of safety incidents, it is important to press on with safety innovations – even one incident is too many.

I’ve dedicated more than 30 years to improving law enforcement and public safety, helping hundreds of municipalities and state agencies create better programs for highway safety, community policing, incident command systems and emergency response planning. I’ve seen crime and violence in our communities firsthand – much of it targeted specifically toward women – and I am personally committed to ensuring the highest-level public safety for all. As a female in law enforcement, I am especially committed to finding solutions for our most vulnerable citizens. That includes many of the people who use rideshare.

Safety incidents within this industry warrant national discussion about what transportation network companies – platforms like Lyft and Uber – are doing to improve rider and driver safety, and how collectively, we can identify ways to improve for the tens of millions of people who rely on these services.

After tragic incidents, it’s become clear that in particular, discussion on ride-hailing driver impersonation and ride verification is necessary. There is work to be done to ensure passengers are able to easily and correctly identify their ride. At the same time, it’s important that these efforts are well thought out and follow an informed approach that doesn’t inadvertently result in legislation that works against the goal of public safety.

Preventing those with criminal intent from gaining access to Uber’s and Lyft’s platforms is in the best interest of everyone – community members, the police and the companies themselves. Just like it is hard for the police to stop someone from engaging in other types of crimes, it is hard for ride-hailing companies to prevent someone from misrepresenting themselves with the goal of exploiting the trust that riders have in these companies. Law enforcement will continue to be a partner and work diligently to apprehend these criminals. But also, ride-hailing companies and lawmakers should leverage the most trustworthy and verified forms of vehicle identification as the starting point of any new solution – license plates.

There’s a reason license plates exist: They are the unique, public-facing, government issued identifier of any vehicle. Law enforcement relies on them, and so should everyone. This is why, as we look to prevent the next tragedy, we should renew our focus on license plate verification, instead of introducing myriad other systems that will confuse and fragment the TNC marketplace, such as QR codes or PIN numbers, and distract from solutions to the real issue.

In fact, license plate information lives within state databases that are accessible by police, enabling them to take action on those who may have criminal or other ill intentions, while QR code information would exist in a third-party database unaffiliated with law enforcement. While lawmakers, and even the ride-hailing companies themselves, are exploring these options as safety tactics, they do not have the same intrinsic level of safety that license plate verification does. These methods will have the unintended consequence of riders becoming less reliant on matching the license plate, which is the worst outcome in a world where forgery and other image fraud is easier than ever.

Instead of mandating or legislating confusing new technologies in the ride-hailing process, nationwide, mandatory front and back license plates is far safer and more reliable. Ride-hailing companies should also make it clear for the customer what the arriving vehicle’s license plate information is; while this is already a prominent feature of any ride-hailing app, there’s always room for improvement. With hundreds of user research designers and application engineers, we can trust that ride-hailing companies – who have already contributed so much to increase transportation safety over their first decade – will be willing partners in finding ways to further improve on their existing application designs in the next.

Compared to traditional transportation methods, ride-hailing companies have already provided an unprecedented level of predictability, uniformity and safety. These efforts show the commitment to raising the standards of trust, accountability, and transparency in transportation by introducing innovative features previously not available to transportation consumers, including:

•   Providing passengers essential details before they enter a vehicle – including the driver’s name and photograph, as well as the vehicle’s make, license plate and image;

•   A two-way rating system that allows drivers and passengers to rate each other after each ride;

•   The ability for passengers to send their trip, route and arrival time to friends and family;

•   Cashless transactions, including tipping, that are processed automatically with no need for drivers or passengers to handle or carry cash; and

•   Dedicated safety teams, available around the clock to respond to any safety incident that may arise.

Leveraging the best source of verified and trustworthy identification for vehicles – the license plate – should be the foundation of next-level solutions and innovation for even greater ride-hailing public safety.

Through additional education and discussion, hopefully lawmakers will agree.

Kym Craven is the executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives.

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