Asbury Park Press Op-Ed by Rep Smith'Sami's Law would protect rideshare passengers from assault'
'Protection for ridersharers; Sami's Law aims to avert repeat of tragic murder, assaults'
By Chris Smith - Published by The APP 9:48 a.m. ET Nov. 28, 2019
Family and friends gathered Tuesday evening in Robbinsville, NJ to mourn the death of Samantha Josephson who was killed when she got into the wrong car, thinking it was her Uber ride. Peter Ackerman, Asbury Park Press
In a congested part of town, a predator pretending to be her Uber driver pulled into the rideshare area, and Sami got into the car. After he locked the doors and trapped her in his vehicle, he brutally murdered her. Less than 24 hours later her dead body was found in a field. The murderer was caught, jailed and awaits trial.
Almost immediately and notwithstanding their excruciating agony over the loss of their precious daughter, Sami’s parents — Seymour and Marci Josephson — began pushing for federal and state legislation to better ensure that no one else loses their life or gets assaulted by a rideshare driver or a predator who pretends to be.
Working with the Josephson’s, I introduced Sami’s Law legislation (HR 4686) to better protect passengers —especially women — who utilize rideshare services including, Uber and Lyft, from sexual assault and other forms of violence.
Our bipartisan bill, Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., is the Democrat cosponsor, will push states to require front license plates and scannable codes — such as quick response or QR codes — on both back-passenger side windows that riders could scan on a smart device to verify their ride before entering a vehicle.
The bill also provides a rider with the ability to opt out of using a QR code by using instead a four-digit personal authentication number to be verified before entering the vehicle. The personal number was an excellent idea suggested by the National Federation of the Blind, which has endorsed the bill. It provides a nonvisually accessible alternative and nonvisual ride confirmation. It has the added benefit of helping those who do not use a smart phone or do not make the call for their own ride.
Sami’s Law will not only ensure vehicle and driver identification for riders, and assist law enforcement in tracking harmful offenders, but protect drivers as well by confirming the passenger.
Another provision in the bill makes it unlawful for anyone other than a transportation network company like Uber or Lyft to sell a ride-hailing sign.
Today, anybody can buy an Uber or Lyft sign on Amazon or elsewhere for as little as 10 bucks — giving the fakes and predators the appearance of signage legitimacy.
Additionally, Sami’s Law requires the Government Accountability Office to study the incidence of assault and abuse of riders and drivers and the nature and specifics of any background checks of drivers and state laws that may require such background checks.
In April 2018, an investigation by CNN revealed at least 103 Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse. The story focuses on a case in which police arrested Uber driver John David Sanchez. When they searched his computer, they found videos of Sanchez raping women and abusing young teenagers. In November 2018, Sanchez was sentenced to 80 years in prison for the rape of the Uber passenger and other counts, including sexual assaults of at least nine other women and children.
What kind of background check and vetting did Uber driver Sanchez get?
The CNN report notes that “Uber was made aware of CNN's reporting for this story months ago, but the company failed to make any executives available to speak on the record. It canceled an on-camera interview with an Uber executive earlier this month.”
In September, 14 women sued Lyft for mishandling their sexual assault complaints against drivers, failing to cooperate with law enforcement officials and refusing to inform victims about the status of the predators who committed these egregious crimes.
Due to the incomparable courage, compassion and advocacy of Sami’s parents, a New Jersey state version of Sami’s Law — nearly identical to our federal bill — was signed into law by Gov. Murphy on June 20. Out of an abundance of concern for the safety, welfare and well-being of all rideshare customers, every state needs to do the same.
We need the enactment of the federal Sami’s Law because no family — in any state or territory in the U.S.—should suffer the agony and loss endured by the Josephson’s.
Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican, represents New Jersey's Fourth Congressional District.