The death of Samantha Josephson – the 21-year-old University of South Carolina senior who ordered an Uber, got into the wrong car and was murdered – has set off a giant public awareness campaign across the country that’s encouraging people to take steps to increase their safety when using app-based ride services.
The case of Josephson, who had been out for a night of fun in downtown Columbia, SC at a popular nightlife spot near campus, is keeping some from using the app-based ride services; however, local authorities say it’s still safer than drinking and driving and they’re providing a lot of tips for increasing personal safety when using Uber or Lyft.
After the murder in South Carolina this weekend, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department sent out a press release offering some tips that riders can follow to help them stay safe as passengers.
The first tip offered is to think about the ride home before the evening starts: “Plan ahead. Before you request a ride, think about where you’re headed and review the safety features in the app so you know how to use them.”
Another piece of advice is that people should send the request for the ride while inside.
“Avoid spending unnecessary time outside alone with your phone in your hand,” the statement reads. “Instead, wait indoors until the app shows your driver has arrived.”
The next safety tip is where Josephson went wrong; she got into a car without checking to validate that it was actually her Uber driver at the wheel.
The Sheriff’s Department states that it’s critical to make sure you get in the correct vehicle: “Before you get in the car, check that license plate, driver photo, and driver name all match what’s listed in the app.”
The department also points out that Uber rides can only be requested through the app – so riders should never get in a car with someone who simply claims to be an Uber driver and is offering a ride on the spot.
According to the advice, people should sit in the backseat when riding alone.
“This ensures you can safely exit on either side of the vehicle to avoid moving traffic,” the statement reads, “and it gives you and your driver some personal space.”
Josephson did this but it didn’t help her ability to escape. According to news accounts, the alleged killer had used the child-lock feature on the car to take away her ability to unlock and open the back doors or roll down the windows.
Not surprisingly, the Sheriff’s Department also suggests that riders use their seatbelts. The truth is that a rider is much more likely to be hurt or killed in an accident than at the hands of a fake Uber driver.
Another tip is to share your trip details with a friend before getting into a car. The department recommends, “While en route, tap ‘Share status’ in the app to share your driver’s name, photo, license plate, and location with a friend or family member. They can track your trip and see your ETA without downloading the Uber app. “
In a Facebook post, the Sheriff’s Department offered some additional tips. One tip is, ”Let family and friends know where you’re going and when you’ll be there, and have a way to communicate with friends and family wherever you’re going.”
Riders are also encouraged to protect their personal information since there’s no need to share a phone number or other contact information with a driver. When a rider and driver need to contact each other, the Uber app automatically masks both phone numbers to protect privacy.
The department also instructs, “While in transit, look out for suspicious behavior and don’t hesitate to call 911 in an emergency.”