As It Happens

'This could happen anywhere': Man mistaken for Uber driver charged in U.S. student's murder

Samantha Josephson, 21, turned up dead after mistaking random car for her Uber. Now lawmakers are trying to make ride-hailing safer for users.

South Carolina lawmakers have proposed a bill to beef up safety for ride-hailing users

Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina student, was last seen getting into a car she thought was an Uber on Friday, March 29, 2019. She was found dead the next day. (Columbia Police Department via AP)
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Just days after a student was found dead after mistaking a random car for her Uber, South Carolina lawmakers have proposed a bill they say will make ride-hailing safer for customers.

Samantha Josephson, 21, called an Uber on Friday night, but the car she ended up in was not her ride after all.

It's the kind of split-second decision people make all the time, says Democratic South Carolina state Rep. Seth Rose. But in this case it cost the University of South Carolina student her life.

Her body was found the next day about 105 kilometres from where she had last been seen. 

Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, has been charged with murder and kidnapping. 

Rose is now co-sponsoring a bill, alongside Rep. Micah Caskey, to help riders properly identify their ride-hail vehicle.

 

"You can't stop a maniac from being a maniac, and that's true," Rose told As It Happens host Carol Off Thursday.

"But we can put more hoops for them to jump through. We can put safeguards in place that make it less likely for someone to do something of this sort."

The bill, named for Josephson, proposes that all Uber and Lyft vehicles be outfitted with a light-up sign, or beacon, that can change colour. That colour would then correspond to a colour assigned on the user's app.

It also requires the companies and state regulators to keep a detailed register of who has the lights.

 

For Rose, the murder struck close to home. Josephson was picked up not far from where he lives, and his jurisdiction includes both the campus and the entertainment district.

But it's especially shaking, he added, because "this could happen anywhere."

"I've been guilty of it. My wife's been guilty of it. We walk up and go to an Uber driver and say, 'Are you David?' And they say, 'Yeah, I'm David.' And we hop in. We don't check the license plate, we don't ask him, 'What's my name?'" Rose said.

A new bill proposed in South Carolina aims to beef up security for riders by requiring Uber and Lyft to add colour-coded beacons to their vehicles. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

In the wake of Josephson's death, a campaign has started urging ride-hail users to ask their driver, What's my name?

Safety efforts are underway within Uber and Lyft, the companies said.

"Everyone at Uber was devastated to hear about this unspeakable crime, and our hearts are with Samantha Josephson's family and loved ones," Uber said in an emailed statement.

"We spoke with the University of South Carolina president and will be partnering with the university to raise awareness on college campuses nationwide about this incredibly important issue."

Uber plans to launch a "Check Your Ride" public awareness campaign on social media and in campus newspapers as well as promote its in-app safety functions to U.S. riders and send push notifications reminding riders to cross-reference the driver's photo, name, the car make and model, and licence plate number.

Lyft said it already offers its drivers a colour-changing display light, and that it also showcases in-app photos of the driver and vehicle, licence plate numbers and other details.

"The safety of our community is our top priority. Since day one, we have worked hard to design policies and features that protect both drivers and passengers," Lyft said in an email. 

For Rose, these efforts are just the beginning as the law attempts to keep up with a burgeoning industry.

"There is no legislation ... that's going to be the end all be all," Rose said. "It's going to be a list of things that we have to go through to be as safe as possible." 

Written by Sarah-Joyce Battersby with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Seth Rose produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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