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Ride Share Driver or Predator: The Sharing Economy's Latest Hurdle

MURDER IN S. CAROLINA SHINES SPOTLIGHT ON RIDE SHARES

Two weeks ago, Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina senior, thought she was getting into the Uber she had called to pick her up. She thought she was being safe and requesting the ride share in a crowded place after a night of partying rather than driving herself back home. But the car Ms. Josephson got into was not the car sent to drive her, and the man behind the wheel was not an Uber driver. Instead, he was a predator and criminal, and Ms. Josephson was tragically kidnapped and murdered.

Elizabeth Suarez, now 28, called for an Uber in July of 2018 outside of Los Angeles in the early morning hours. When the car stopped in front of her, she opened the door, asked the driver if he was there for Liz, and then climbed in. While driving, she received a text message from her real Uber driver asking where she was and suddenly realized in horror that the man in the front seat was not an Uber driver. When the imposter pulled behind an abandoned grocery store and demanded her wallet, phone and jewelry, she gave it all to him, and then jumped out of the car as it began to speed up again. Ms. Suarez was badly injured—she fractured her skull and broke her wrist and ankle—but she lived. She is speaking out about her ordeal because she believes that the perpetrator knew to be there, knew to look for her, and is still out there impersonating ride share drivers.

In Connecticut just last week, a man was arraigned on charges of kidnapping and raping two women who thought he was their ride-share driver. In Athens, Georgia last April, a man was charged with posing as an Uber driver and raping a University of Georgia student.

Sadly, the stories go on. In the past two years alone, there have been over two dozen women assaulted, raped and even killed by men posing as ride share drivers. While ride share companies are implementing better hiring practices and security measures regarding their drivers in the wake of reporting that uncovered an unacceptable number of crimes perpetrated by drivers, the crimes coming to light now are tough to safeguard against because they are not being committed by ride share drivers. These assaults and murders are being committed by predators and criminals taking advantage of what is usually a distracted, crowded scene where vulnerable people are looking for rides—and get into the cars of deadly impostors.

SAFETY TIPS WHEN RIDE SHARING

So how can you be safe? Below are some tips being promoted by ride share companies and the University of South Carolina:

1. “What’s My Name?” This is a campaign that is being promoted by the University of South Carolina in light of the tragic kidnapping and murder of Ms. Josephson. People waiting for their ride are being reminded to ask any driver that pulls up: “What’s my name?” while standing outside of the car. Do not volunteer your name by asking the driver if he is here for you, and do not ask the question after you are already in the car and have surrendered control to whomever is in the front seat—a person who may or may not be a ride share driver. In response to Ms. Josephson’s murder and the “What’s My Name?” campaign, Uber has said that it will be partnering with universities nationwide to raise awareness on college campuses about this incredibly important issue.

2. Always check the license plate and the make and model of the car to make sure that it matches that of the car being sent to you.

3. Ask the driver his name, and see if the photo that was sent matches the driver.

4. Share your status: sometimes referred to as voluntary tracking, this feature in the Uber app is incredibly useful. Share your route and destination with a person or people you choose, and they can track your progress in real time. If the driver deviates from the route, or if you do not get to your intended destination, your trackers can notify the police. Noteworthy is the fact that Uber also tracks routes and destinations of drivers; however, it is still a good idea to utilize this safety feature.

5. The Glow: Much has been made of the glowing dashboard lights (the Beacon or Amp) that change color to match a hue on a passenger’s app. However, there is a limited distribution of these. South Carolina legislators have proposed a law to be named in honor of Ms. Josephson that would require all ride share drivers to display a lighted sign indicating that they are a ride share driver.

RIDERS BEWARE

As is too often the case, it takes tragedy to spur change. Ride shares have been a great innovation in transportation, but as with many disrupters of the sharing economy, their innovation and accessibility creates risks. The fact that we no longer look to a distinctive yellow taxi cab when hailing a ride means that people can—and do—impersonate ride share drivers. In general, intra-city transportation has become much more affordable and therefore much more popular. In this age of accessibility, the sheer ubiquity of ride shares leaves the situation ripe for exploitation of riders.

So riders beware. Use the information provided to decrease the risks. Ask drivers “What’s my name?” Match the license plate, make and model of the car. Share your status. Never assume that the person in the car in front of you is the driver you called. If that person turns out to be the ride share driver, he will not mind that you check the information sent to you against what you see in front of you. If he turns out to be a predator/imposter, you will certainly be glad you didn’t get in that car.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has been injured by someone posing as a ride share driver, contact Dave Thomas at the Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

Categories: Uber, ride share driver
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