A wave of unease overcame college students across the country in late March after news broke that Samantha Josephson, a senior at the University of South Carolina, was killed after mistaking a car for her Uber. Josephson’s death raises the question of how college students can remain safe and continue to use ridesharing apps.
The University of Richmond wants students to be aware of how they can avoid a potentially dangerous Uber or Lyft ride.
David McCoy, the associate vice president for public safety and chief of the University Police Department, sent an email out to the UR community on April 3 to emphasize the safety recommendations provided by rideshare companies.
The email suggested that users plan ahead, review the rideshare app’s safety features, verify that it is the right car and driver via the app before entering said car, share trip details with friends and trust their instincts.
“I also feel that a lot of discussions are occurring as it relates to better identification of rideshare vehicles and other preventive measures,” McCoy said in an interview. “As with any form of transportation, always be aware, not alarmed but aware.”
Combined, Uber and Lyft have approximately 98 million users across the world. As the rideshare industry continues to grow and develop, it is clear that people favor the advantages that rideshare presents, McCoy said.
“Our campus has a high volume of Uber usage,” McCoy said. “There have been many times in which an Uber driver will contact us due to the inability of the user to properly get out of the vehicle, [and] I am glad that they do this. Many rideshare drivers have become ‘regulars’ across campus as well, and having a consistent driver builds greater confidence for the users.”
Some UR students think the university could add additional safety measures to help students use Uber or Lyft responsibly.
“After the incident at USC, my friends and I discussed a few ideas that address how Richmond can help with the safety of students who use Uber or Lyft,” said senior Emma Thomas, an UberEats driver. “UR could have a designated spot to check Ubers, similar to airports. This way students know exactly where the Uber drop-off and pick-up is, and the school could even have someone confirming that the car is actually an Uber or Lyft.
“Another idea that my friends and I talked about was for Richmond to have its own Uber/Lyft system, where drivers can sign up or be approved to drive UR students.”
Thomas has yet to share her ideas with UR’s safety team and has not set any plans to, but students have started to take precautionary measures on their own.
“I now double-check the license plate and always make sure that I'm with a friend when Ubering,” senior Claudia Ajluni said.
Both Ajluni and Thomas agree that they have become more cautious when using rideshare apps. They do not hold back when it comes to asking the driver questions in order to ensure their safety.
However, there are still some unknowns that come with taking rideshares.
“To an extent, it is the responsibility of the rider to be more cautious when taking an Uber,” Ajluni said, “but it is not within our capacity to know whether a normal-seeming person is a threat or not.”
It is not only college campuses that are taking the death of Josephson very seriously. People are asking that stronger safety guidelines be added to rideshare services by starting nationwide petitions and awareness websites.
“I recently signed an online petition that was started by a classmate of Josephson’s,” Thomas said. “The petition is to get Uber to require QR codes.”
The passenger would scan a QR code on the side of their Uber or Lyft with their phone. After the scanning of the QR code, the ride information would appear on the passenger’s phone screen, ensuring that the driver is the correct one and that the rider is aware of who their driver is and what vehicle they are getting into.
The goal of the petition is to help people feel more safe, according to its page on Change.org. The petition currently has more than 258,000 signatures with a goal of 300,000.
Contact news contributor Michaela Tevlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.