Bipartisan legislation would improve ride-share safety
February 17, 2021
WASHINGTON, DC — With an eye toward a post-COVID easing of restrictions and a return to economic normalcy, a group of bipartisan lawmakers are determined to establish timely and much-needed safety protections for Americans who will be using rideshare companies to help them get to work, school, appointments or social events.
Authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) with lead Democrat cosponsor, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Sami’s Law will require transportation networking companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft to deploy a verifiable digital access system to match drivers with passengers before the ride begins to enhance safety for the ride-hailing public. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Ben Cardin (D-MD) later this month.
The legislation, HR 1082, is named in honor of Samantha “Sami” Josephson—who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by a predator pretending to be her Uber driver near the University of South Carolina just months prior to her graduation in 2019.
“We must establish safety protocols and accountability in the system to protect rideshare customers who remain extremely vulnerable,” said Smith, who represents Sami’s hometown of Robbinsville, NJ. “As the nation looks to emerge from COVID restrictions, there will likely be a surge in travel and general activities, and thus a corresponding urgency to protect those who rely on Uber and Lyft services.”
Underscoring the dangers, Smith cited Sami’s tragic murder and pointed to a report released by Uber that found over a two-year period, 2017 to 2018, the company received 5,981 allegations of serious sexual assault in the United States, and 19 people were killed in physical assaults during or soon after an Uber ride. He also cited a 2019 CNN report that revealed that Lyft has been hit with multiple driver rape and sexual assault allegations.
“No family should have to endure what the Josephson’s have” Rep. Suozzi said. We can’t stop every family tragedy, but hopefully Sami’s law will establish safety protocols that protect Uber, Lyft and other rideshare customers.”
Seymour and Marci Josephson, Sami’s parents, created the #WHATSMYNAME Foundation in ‘‘honor of their daughter to educate the world on rideshare safety.” They also came up with the idea for the legislation to help ensure no one else loses their life or is assaulted by a rideshare driver or a predator pretending to be their driver.
Last year, after painstaking negotiations with Smith, the Josephsons, congressional leaders, and Uber and Lyft, Sami’s Law unanimously passed the House with the strong support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. The bill garnered the support of key Senate leaders, but time ran out in the Senate before unanimous consent could be achieved.
“Lives are at stake and people, especially women, who use rideshare services are vulnerable to sexual assault and other crimes,” Smith said. “The Josephsons have made great progress educating rideshare customers about potential dangers, but none of us will rest until the modest and effective Sami’s Law protocols are enacted and the public is better protected.”
Sami’s Law not only sets safety requirements for today’s technology and a process for successor technology performance standards, it also:
- establishes a 17-member advisory council that reports to the Secretary of Transportation—SAMI’s Council—comprised of federal agency and public stakeholders to advance safety standards in the rideshare industry;
- makes it unlawful to sell, or offer for sale, ride-share signage, making it more difficult for imposters like Sami’s murderer to pose as a driver;
- requires a GAO report on the incidence of assault and abuse of both passengers and drivers;
- requires that the GAO also examine the nature and specifics of “background” checks conducted by companies and the varying standards set by States regarding background checks.
Other original cosponsors of the bill include: Reps. James Clyburn (D-SC), the Democratic Whip; Joe Wilson (R-SC); Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ); and Albio Sires (D-NJ). The new bill is already endorsed by two groups which originally opposed the legislation last Congress.
“We thank and commend Representative Smith for working closely with us in crafting this legislation, which will provide a fully nonvisual method for blind and deafblind passengers to identify and verify rideshare trips,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Personal safety is a top priority for our movement and we urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation.”
“The National Sheriffs’ Association supports Sami’s Law… all users of ridesharing programs should have a reasonable expectation of safety, which this bill addresses for both passengers and drivers,” said Jonathan F. Thompson, Executive Director and CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association.