WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are urging their colleagues to swiftly move forward bicameral, bipartisan legislation (S. 1871) designed to protect ride-share customers across the country. Their legislation, called “Sami’s Law,” comes in response to the March killing of 21-year-old Samantha “Sami” Josephson, who stepped into a car she thought was her Uber. Sami was a New Jersey resident and was about to graduate from the University of South Carolina.
“Congress has a responsibility to take reasonable action to protect public safety so that no other family has to endure this type of heartbreak,” said Senator Cardin. “Ride sharing has become commonplace across the country today, making a nationwide response essential. No one should be left at risk.”
“Our laws simply have not kept up with the skyrocketing popularity of ride sharing companies – with sometimes tragic consequences,” Senator Blumenthal said. “Sami’s Law would require basic protections for riders, like access to their driver’s information, displayed license plates, and the same kind of illuminated signs required of other transit options. Convenience should never take a back seat to safety.”
“As ride-share services grow in popularity, we have a responsibility to address gaps in public safety, and Sami’s Law aims to do just that,” said Senator Menendez. “No family should have to go through the kind of horrific tragedy experienced by the Josephson family.”
“It’s essential that we take necessary steps to ensure the safety of ride share customers. Making it easier for riders to identify their vehicles will make it tougher for nefarious actors to pose as a driver. It’s important that we’re working toward solutions that safeguard ride share users so that no family bears the same pain as the Josephson family,” Senator Booker said.
In response to their daughter’s tragic death, the Josephsons are also seeking to educate ride-share passengers on the best safety practices. They are 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.
To that end, the new legislation requires states to improve safety guidelines for ride-share companies (also known as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs) by mandating that ride-share drivers display the following:
- A front and rear license plate.
- A scannable quick response (QR) or similar code on the passenger windows for riders to verify that they are entering the correct authorized vehicle. The bill allows for “follow on or successor technology” in the event that QR code technology becomes obsolete – a claim Uber and Lyft representatives made as we were drafting the legislation.
- Illuminated signs that are visible in both day and night, and are readable from fifty feet.
“Sami’s Law” (S. 1871) prohibits the sale of illuminated ride-share signs and the display of such signs by individuals who are not authorized drivers for the ride-hailing company through the enforcement of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Should a state fail to enforce the requirements outlined, Sami’s Law directs the Secretary of Transportation to withhold 1.0 percent of National Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funding in the first year and 2.5 percent each fiscal year thereafter. In such instances, the funding lapses and is not available for apportionment.
The bill also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on the incidence of assault and abuse perpetrated on drivers by passengers using ride-hailing vehicles, and on such passengers by drivers of ride-hailing vehicles, pertaining to: incidences where individuals pose as ride-hailing drivers; incidences of passengers entering the wrong vehicle; efforts by ride-hailing companies to implement additional safety measures and practices; and the nature and specifics of any background checks conducted by transportation network companies on potential drivers, including any State laws which may require such background checks.
By increasing accountability for both ride-share companies and drivers, “Sami’s Law” will be a crucial step in protecting passengers who utilize widespread ride-share technology.
Republican Congressman Chris Smith (N.J.-04) has introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives.