After 21-year-old Samantha Josephson was found dead last week in Columbia, South Carolina, allegedly murdered by a man she thought was her Uber driver, her relatives are calling on ride-share companies to improve safeguards.
Police believe the University of South Carolina student had been waiting for an Uber after a night out and got into the wrong car by mistake.
Her body was found the next day, and Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, was arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping.
At her funeral Wednesday, which was held at a synagogue in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, just outside her hometown, her cousin Seth Josephson asked that Uber and Lyft “provide safeguards to the mistakes that are easily made, the mistake that took Sami from us.”
He also asked for passengers to be careful when getting into an Uber or Lyft and “first inquire from the driver that they are the rider, that they were supposed to be picked up.”
“The family’s message that it hopes people, young adults for certain, take from this senseless killing of a wonderful girl is that the ride-share community — Uber and Lyft — learn from this and take ownership of the fortune made by their customers,” Seth Josephson said.
In addition to the family’s calls for accountability, more than 20,000 people have signed a petition urging the ride-share companies to implement QR codes in order to verify both drivers’ and riders’ identities.
The petition was started by community activist Sydney Ford, 24, who went to school with Samantha Josephson and had a class with her before she graduated. She is also friends with some of Josephson’s close friends.
The day after her classmate was found dead, Ford took a Lyft ride and was so scared she “felt like throwing up,” she told BuzzFeed News.
“I felt so much fear just thinking about what she went through when she realized she was in a car she couldn’t get out of,” Ford said. “I had five other people in the car with me, and still felt like I needed to get out.”
Students at the University of South Carolina have embraced the #WhatsMyName campaign, which urges riders to ask drivers “What’s my name?” to make sure they’re getting in the right car, after the school president encouraged students to do so.
“Asking ‘WHAT’S MY NAME?’ must become as automatic for you as putting on a seatbelt in your own vehicle,” USC President Harris Pastides said in a letter to students.
Ford praised the campaign and said she hopes QR codes could be “an extra layer of safety in Sami’s memory that could really ensure safety for both the drivers and the passengers.”
“It’s so easy to just buy an Uber or Lyft sticker or light online and pretend to be an Uber,” Ford said.
Since starting the petition, Ford said she’s heard “so many stories of people having experiences where the driver wasn’t the right person, someone pretending to be their driver, and so much more.”
“This could happen to anyone at any time,” she said. “In this age of technology where companies like Uber and Lyft make millions of dollars, it’s not difficult for them to reformulate their software to make this change.”
An Uber spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they’ve “been working with local law enforcement to educate the public about how to avoid fake rideshare drivers” since 2017.
“Everyone at Uber is devastated to hear about this unspeakable crime, and our hearts are with Samantha Josephson’s family and loved ones,” the Uber spokesperson said. “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 now plans to implement more safety features and campaigns, including push notifications to remind passengers during pickup to make sure the car they’re getting into matches the one in the app, it said.
A Lyft spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they “have worked hard to design policies and features that protect both drivers and passengers,” such as providing car and driver details and color-changing lights to help with finding the right car.
“The safety of our community is our top priority,” the Lyft spokesperson said.