In the early morning hours of March 29th, 2019, a young college student waited for the Uber she requested. She was probably out having fun with her friends, blowing off steam after a tough study session. She was most likely thinking about how nice it would be to get home and settled in.
Surveillance video shows that she entered a black Chevrolet Impala at 2 AM, which, as it turned out, was not her Uber. Rather, it turns out that the Impala’s driver was a rogue agent, and quite frankly, a piece of human excrement, just posing as an Uber driver.
It was a mistake that any one of the other people you can see in the video, who were probably waiting for their own rides, could have made in the dark of night while tired and possibly intoxicated.
Samantha Josephson’s mistake was, tragically, a fatal one. Authorities found her body the next day and quickly arrested a suspect. The police found her phone in the car, as well as other evidence. The phone showed that her real Uber had called her, asking where she was.
Even as she may have realized what was happening, she couldn’t get out of the car, as the child safety locks were engaged.
It’s utterly horrifying. According to the New York Times, public records show that this sort of crime has happened before, more than 20 times in the past few years as ride-share services have become more popular. These are not crimes perpetrated by legitimate ride-share drivers themselves, but people who pretend to be ride-share drivers.
Confirm Make, Model, License Plate, and Driver
In response to this event, Uber sent out a message to its users that they should always use their smartphone app to double-check the make and model of the vehicle that arrives, matching it to the license plate number. Also, make sure the driver matches the picture of the driver on the app before you get into the back seat.
This is excellent advice. But when time is of the essence, or if you’re inebriated or exhausted, taking these important steps may slip your mind. Further, as someone who writes about cars for a living, it’s easy for me to identify the makes and models of the hundreds of vehicles on the road, but it gets harder in the dark of night. And most of my friends can barely tell a Honda from a Toyota, even in daylight with badges front and rear.
Samantha Josephson’s bereaved father thinks that all ride-share vehicles should be displaying light-up signs from their companies to show riders that they are legit. That’s a good idea, except that anyone can buy these signs from Amazon.
Ask Your Driver: “What’s My Name?” and “What’s Your Name?”
A far simpler way of adding a layer of security to hopping into a stranger’s vehicle and entrusting them to safely take you to your destination is simply by asking the driver two questions: “What’s my name?” and “What’s your name?”
The driver should know your name from your customer profile. You know the driver’s name from his or her driver profile. If the driver doesn’t know your name, don’t get in the car. If the driver’s name doesn’t match what’s on your smartphone, don’t get in the car.
Finally, it might be a good idea to quickly check to see that you can open the door from inside the car. Child safety locks are manually activated using a switch on the door jamb, as seen in the photo above. You’re going to want these to be in the off position before getting into the vehicle.
When you’re young and carefree and out having fun with friends, it is easy to forget that not everyone deserves your trust. When it comes to using ride-share services and entering a stranger’s car in the dark of night, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Ask: “What’s my name?” Then ask: “What’s your name?” That’s all it takes.