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The Daily Tar Heel

USC student's death sparks discussion about ride-share safety

Rideshare safety
DTH Photo Illustration. According to a post on Uber Newsroom, a website through which the company can post updates, people can practice rideshare safety by double-checking the driver's name and photo, as well as the car's model and license plate number. Wade Stormer, one of Uber's law enforcement liaisons and author of the post, suggests riders that encounter a fraudulent Uber should "Go to a safe place and wait for the right car to arrive, or cancel the ride and report it to us."

University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, 21, was killed March 29 after getting into a car she mistook for her Uber. Josephson had been out with her friends at a downtown Columbia bar but was separated from the group before she disappeared. Josephson’s death has raised public concern about the dangers of using ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft. 

Following Friday’s incident, the University of South Carolina President sent out a statement to the University’s students regarding the loss faced by Samantha’s loved ones and the USC community as a whole. 

“The events of last week were extremely difficult for our entire community,” the statement said. “Mere words cannot match the depth of sorrow we feel or fill the sudden hole torn in our collective hearts.” 

The president’s statement also asked students to honor Samantha’s memory by following certain guidelines when using ride-share. 

“Asking ‘WHAT’S MY NAME?’ must become as automatic for you as putting on a seat belt in your own vehicle,” the statement said. 

In wake of the tragedy at USC, UNC Media Relations shared a statement over email offering their condolences to USC and reminding students who use ride-share to be safe, even if that requires taking an alternative means of transportation like the P2P Shuttle system.  

“Our hearts go out to those impacted by the tragic events related to the recent death of University of South Carolina (USC) student Samantha Josephson,” the statement said. “We would remind and strongly encourage those who access app-based ride-share options for safe transportation to redouble safety efforts.”

The Daily Tar Heel contacted Uber media relations, who said that Uber does not have an official statement concerning the recent tragedy at USC. However, a law enforcement liaison did write a blog post for Uber about ride-share safety in 2017.

The blog post explains how to check your Uber is the correct car and driver. To verify these details, the blog encourages riders to look at the Uber app for the driver’s name and photo and the car’s license plate number and model. In the case that this information does not match, riders should move away from the car and find a safe place where they can wait for the correct vehicle, cancel their ride and report it to Uber or call the police. 

Uber has also embedded many safety features in its app, which can be used during a ride with the company. These precautions include being able to share information about the ride with friends and family in real time, GPS tracking during the trip, a two-way feedback system between the rider and driver and a cross-street option where riders can provide their cross streets instead of their exact location. 

Future additions to the app will incorporate a Safety Center with safety tips from law enforcement, a Trusted Contacts sharing option and a 911 Assistance emergency button. By using these technological components and checking that their rides align with the information on their phones, riders can increase their safety while using ride-share services. 

Another important element of ride-share safety is helping others with their ride if they are intoxicated or unfamiliar with the service. Recently in the media, Josephson’s father has become a vocal proponent of group support in situations involving alcohol and bar culture.  

"Let's be honest — you guys are drinking, leaving the bar or whatever it may be," he told a local television station at a vigil on Sunday night. "If there's somebody else in the car, there's actually a chance."

While ride-share safety does begin with checking your driver and car, riders may also face strange behavior from their driver even when in the right vehicle. Some students at UNC have had experience with such encounters.  

Hannah Correll, a first year journalism major, was in an Uber with her friend when her driver pulled over in a secluded neighborhood not included in their predicted route. The driver, a man in his mid-30s, proceeded to ask the girls personal questions about their families and physical characteristics, Correll said. 

At one point, Correll said the driver even touched her friend’s leg and shoulder. Uber’s Community Guidelines cite that touching and flirting with other people in the car is prohibited. 

“I think being with people in Ubers is always important no matter where you’re going because you never know who you’re going to end up in the car with,” Correll said. “These are total strangers that basically have control over where you’re going.”

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