House passes Sami's Law to crack down on rideshare impersonation
House passage of Sami's Law sends the rideshare safety bill to the Senate.
The House moved to protect users of rideshare services by cracking down on imposter drivers with the passage of Sami's Law on Wednesday.
The bill is named to commemorate the tragic death of Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old New Jersey native who was a college senior at the University of South Carolina when she was kidnapped and murdered in 2019 by a man posing as a rideshare driver.
Josephson thought she was getting into the Uber she requested, but the driver, a man named Nathaniel Rowland, trapped Josephson in the car using its childproof locks, according to prosecutors. He was convicted of killing Josephson and sentenced to life in prison in July 2021 following his trial for what the presiding judge called the "horrific and most brutal" murder he had seen in his legal career.
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Sami's Law would make it illegal for any person other than an authorized employee of a ridesharing service or taxi company to sell ride-hailing signage. The Federal Trade Commission would be tasked with enforcing that provision using its authority to regulate unfair and deceptive trade practices.
The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to investigate the incidence of assault and abuse of both passengers and drivers, the specifics of background checks conducted by ridesharing companies and assess safety steps taken by those companies.
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), who is the lead sponsor of the bill in the House along with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), spoke on the House floor before the chamber advanced Sami's Law on Wednesday. He said the need for the law is "absolutely compelling."
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"I ask my colleagues: Do any of us really believe that ridesharing on Uber and Lyft are safe – especially for women? Two reports released by Uber found that over a four-year period – from 2017 through 2020 – there were 9,805 allegations of serious sexual assault by Uber drivers in the U.S. and 39 people were killed in physical assaults during or soon after an Uber ride," Smith said. "Lyft's own safety report revealed 4,158 allegations of sexual assault in a three-year period from 2017 to 2019."
Sami's Law passed the House on a 349-80 en bloc vote in which it was bundled with a dozen other bills that have broad support. It now heads to the Senate and faces a race against time to clear the upper chamber and become law before the current Congress ends on Jan. 3, 2023.
The bill's quickest potential path through the Senate is to be considered as a standalone measure and passed on a voice vote or passed with unanimous consent. Sami's Law could also be included in an omnibus spending package that's being drafted to fund the government through the end of September 2023.
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After Josephson's murder, Uber and Lyft took some steps to promote rider safety, such as providing drivers with larger stickers to identify their vehicles and including reminders within their apps for riders to verify the details of their driver before entering a vehicle.
However, Smith said in his floor remarks the companies opposed earlier versions of Sami's Law that included more stringent requirements for ridesharing services. Smith said the companies opposed provisions that would have required ridesharing vehicles to have a digital verification system to match a passenger with their driver. He called that stance "mind-boggling" given that Uber already has an opt-in version of that feature.
In the previous Congress, Sami's Law passed the House on a voice vote in late July 2020 with those provisions included, but the Senate didn't consider the measure before the end of the session. The digital verification requirement was in the legislation when Smith reintroduced the bill when the 117th Congress began last year, although it was removed to improve the bill's odds of becoming law.
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In a statement provided to Fox Business, a spokesperson for Lyft said, "We continue to take action to invest in technology, policies and partnerships to make Lyft as safe as it can be. We commend the Josephson family and Rep. Smith for their efforts to pass Sami's Law." Lyft has also suggested that mandating front and back license plates on all vehicles and creating criminal penalties for impersonating a rideshare driver would help improve safety.
Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
Josephson's family established the #WHATSMYNAME Foundation in honor of their daughter to educate the world on rideshare safety. The Foundation recommends that rideshare users follow steps using the acronym SAMI to stay safe: Stop and familiarize yourself with the app's safety features; Ask your driver "what's my name" to confirm they booked a trip with you; Match the make, model, and license plate of the car with the one displayed in the app; and Inform a friend or family member about the details of your trip.