Reps. Chris Smith, Tom Suozzi Testify on Proposed ‘Sami’s Law’ Legislation named in honor of young NJ woman brutally murdered by Ride-Share Impostor
WASHINGTON, DC – Bipartisan legislation named in honor
of Samantha “Sami” Josephson—a senior at the University of South Carolina who
was kidnapped and brutally murdered earlier this year by a predator pretending
to be her Uber driver—was taken up Wednesday by the House Subcommittee on
Highways and Transit hearing entitled “Examining the Future of Transportation Network
Companies: Challenges and Opportunities.”
Sami’s Law, which would establish needed protections for ride-share customers across the country, is authored by Republican Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) with lead Democratic cosponsor, Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY-03) in the House, HR 4686. In the Senate prime sponsor Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced a companion bill as S. 1871.
Sami’s Law will require enhanced vehicle identification procedures to create a safer environment for ride-share drivers and customers and to make it harder for those with ill intent from impersonating drivers.
“The idea for the legislation came directly from the grieving parents of a young woman brutally murdered by a fake Uber driver. Now we know there are significant personal safety concerns associated with actual Uber and Lyft drivers as well—not just the fakes—that are not well appreciated or publicized,” testified Rep. Smith, who represents Robbinsville, N.J. where Sami grew up and the Josephsons live.
“Almost immediately and notwithstanding their excruciating
agony over the loss of their precious daughter, Sami’s parents—Seymour and
Marci Josephson—began pushing for federal and state legislation to better
ensure that no one else loses their life or gets assaulted by a rideshare
driver or a predator who pretends to be. Working with the Josephson’s, we’ve
crafted a bipartisan bill that would push states to require front license
plates and scannable codes—such as QR codes—on both back-passenger side windows
that riders could scan on a smart device to verify their ride before—I say
again before—entering a vehicle.” Click here to read Smith’s testimony. Click
here to read Smith’s testimony. Click
here to watch video of his testimony.
Rep. Smith, on left, and Rep. Suozzi, at right, testify at the Oct. 16, 2019 hearing. Rep. Suozzi told the subcommittee he was disappointed that Uber and Lyft turned down invitations to testify.
“Earlier this year, Sami Josephson called for an Uber, entered the wrong car, and was murdered. Our Smith/Suozzi bill works to provide consumers with a level of safety before entering a vehicle. The Josephson Family is not alone. It is shocking that Uber and Lyft have not taken this seriously and refused to attend today’s hearing. We need common sense bipartisan solutions to these safety and other issues hitting this new industry,” said Congressman Suozzi (D- Long Island, Queens). Click here to read Rep. Suozzi’s statement.
The legislation would require all ride-share vehicles to have a scannable Quick Response (QR) bar code on both back-passenger side windows that riders could scan on a smart device to verify their ride before entering a vehicle. The newly reintroduced Sami’s Law HR 4686 additionally provides a rider with the option to opt-out of using a QR code by instead using a four-digit personal authentication number to be verified before entering the vehicle. The personal number was an idea suggested by the National Federation of the Blind—which has endorsed the bill.
Sami’s Law also would mandate state issued front license plates for ride-share vehicles and illuminated windshield signs visible in the day and at night from a distance of 50 feet. To address reports of sexual assault, the bill also requires the GAO to conduct a study on the prevalence of assault and abuse perpetrated on riders by drivers of ride-hailing vehicles, and on drivers by ride-hailing passengers. The study will also assess the frequency and effectiveness of background checks conducted by ride-sharing companies on potential drivers and the state laws on background checks for drivers.
Smith and Suozzi addressed members of the Subcommittee, part of the House Committee of Transportation. At one point, Smith testified “Today, anybody can buy an Uber or Lyft sign on Amazon or elsewhere for as little as ten bucks—enabling the fakes and predators with the appearance of signage legitimacy,” prompting the full Committee Chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), to go online during the hearing and find signs for as little $8.99. “I had no idea about the signs. I just went on Amazon and I see a very wide selection of Uber and Lyft signs… . So anybody can buy one. I had no idea. Thank you for that. That is mind-boggling,” DeFazio said, thanking Smith for bringing the issue it to the attention of the Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Sami’s Law legislation.
States that do not implement the legislation’s regulations will lose one percent of their federal highway funding—a provision that is similar to the federal incentive used to motivate states to raise the drinking age to 21 and to prohibit open alcohol beverage containers in motor vehicles.
The Josephsons are also seeking to educate ride-share passengers on the best safety practices, using the acronym S-A-M-I (“Stop, Ask, Match, Inform”) to teach riders to be alert to their surroundings, ensure the car they are entering is the correct ride-share vehicle, ask the driver to identify them by name, and tell friends to track their ride.
In May and again in September, the Josephsons met with Members of Congress and staff, and Administration officials to advocate for laws and policies that would protect ride-share passengers from predators posing as drivers.