Crime & Courts

USC, Uber collaborate on new national safety campaign in wake of student’s death

An Uber team member shows new app safety features.
An Uber team member shows new app safety features. David Travis Bland

Celia Cui spoke through a hushed cry. “We must ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

She spoke about the death of Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old University of South Carolina student who police say was abducted and killed by a man she thought was her Uber driver.

Thursday, the University of South Carolina and Uber announced a new safety campaigned aimed at stopping ride share-based violence.

The Campus Safety Initiative has three parts; an education and awareness campaign, a new push notice, and navigation to a safe pick-up zone.

The education and awareness part furthers the #What’smyname campaign, which calls for all ride-share users to ask their drivers: “What’s my name?” or “Who are you picking up?”

Email blasts, fliers and posters as well as other materials are set to go out to reminde riders to ask those questions.

The new push notice sends an alert to riders’ phones that tells them to check the vehicle’s license plate, make and model, the driver’s photo and to ask that drivers confirm the riders’ identity.

Uber also worked with USC and the Columbia Police Department to establish a safe pick-up zone in Five Points. The zone is at 2100 Santee Ave., which is a stretch of road between the Bank of America parking lot and soon-to-be Home Team BBQ, formerly Harper’s. The safe pick-up zone is not at the parking lot near the fountain, a popular pick-up and drop-off spot.

A new feature in the Uber app will guide riders to the zone.

“Public safety is a shared responsibility,” said Tracey Breeden, Uber’s head of global women’s safety and gender-based violence programs as well as a former police officer. “(Uber Officials) want to be a part of that, but it also involves communities and police and universities all coming together to work collaboratively. And that’s what’s happening here.”

A few Uber drivers attended the conference.

“We’re here establishing safeguards for the riders but we’re not here establishing safeguards for the driver,” said Deloris Richardson, a driver of about three years. “It should be for both sides”

Breeden said the same safety measures that apply to riders can work for drivers. Drivers should also confirm the name of the person they’re picking up.

The new push notifications are now active and should work for anyone getting a ride. The guide to the safe pick-up zone will be live soon, Uber officials said.

The safety initiative will be rolled out nationwide during the next couple of weeks, Breeden said.

Lyft, another major ride share service, also announced new securities. Lyft will enact “continuous criminal background checks,” which will monitor active drivers and give the company immediate alerts to any disqualifying criminal convictions, ABC news reported. The company also announced steps that will combine driver license verification and photo verification to stop identity fraud.

“I think it’s just become such a natural or new phenomenon using Uber. We trust people and you can’t. You have to change the way that the laws are to make it safer because that’s our nature. We automatically assume that we’re safe,” Marci Josephson, Samantha’s mother, said recently on Good Morning America.

USC student body president Luke Rankin called on students to focus on safety and to watch out for others. “We owe it to Samantha Josephson.”

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.
  Comments