Maria M. Silva, Special Assignment Reporter
Last weekend, University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was murdered after mistakenly entering a stranger’s car that she thought was her Uber ride.
The murder has left the country in shock and raised safety concerns over rideshare services like Uber and Lyft. Both services are also very popular among UC students, who are now wondering if they are really safe when using them.
In September, Uber announced new features designed to increase passenger safety. When using the transportation service, users are able to share their location with a friend or relative to inform them about their trip status in real time, according to the company’s website. In addition, Uber incorporated an emergency button to contact 911 in case they need it.
But even though Uber and Lyft may offer safety measures to protect their customers, Director of Campus Safety Wayne Sullivan said “there are always predators out there. And college students are prime targets.”
As the main person responsible for UC’s safety, Sullivan recommended verifying the Uber driver’s information, such as their photo and name, as well as confirming the vehicle and the license plate number before entering any vehicle.
“You just have to constantly be aware of your surroundings,” Sullivan said.
In addition, any situation in which the passenger may be impaired “only heightens your risk.”
“[Fake Uber drivers] often target bars, so drinking alcohol is something to avoid,” Sullivan said. “People who have had a few drinks don’t have their normal ability to size up situations like this or even think about their safety.”
When emergency situations take place, Sullivan said that “you have to make every effort to get out of there.”
Cases like Josephons’ shed light on issues of safety and ridesharing, but Sullivan said he believes “the problem is going to grow.”
“[The public] will be aware for a short period of time but things settle down and people often forget when they are having a good time,” he said.
When it comes to preventing risk situations, “it’s very difficult to train people to always be aware of their surroundings.”
Sullivan’s approach is to keep awareness because it is “your first defense against any risk situation, and it is your ability to make good judgement calls.”
Director of Emergency Management Shad Crowe said Uber and Lyft do “a great job” with verifying the credentials of the people working for them.
However, Crowe said it is still important to verify you are safe after entering a driver’s vehicle. Checking a car’s doors to see if they open before you leave is one way to do this.
“Making sure no child locks are employed is important to make sure you can exit the vehicle in the event of an emergency,” Crowe said.
In addition, keeping an eye on the app after an Uber or Lyft ride has been requested is “crucial because, although, we might get busy or distracted with our phones, it’s always important to verify that the vehicle that arrives to provide you with a ride is in fact the one that you called,” Crowe said.
In case of an emergency situation in which the life of the passenger is in danger, “it’s important to first gather as much information as possible about the driver and the vehicle and calling 911 immediately,” Crowe explained.
“It’s also beneficial for Uber users to stay inside while they wait for their ride to pick them up,” Crowe said. “That will give you time to verify the information and the description of the vehicle.”
As director of emergency management, Campus Safety reports to Crowe, who contacts local law enforcement in case of an emergency.
“As soon as someone contacts us, we will try to locate our student or our Utica College community member; we will exhaust all our resources to find and help them,” Crowe said.
Learning about Josephson’s death and the circumstances surrounding it left junior Katie Ortiz “very saddened,” and it made her become more aware of taking any type of transportation that involves being in a vehicle with another person that she might not know.
Ortiz uses Uber frequently and believes she is “always at risk because I’m getting into a stranger’s car. I don’t know who the person is, and there could be the possibility where I am in danger.”
While in the car, she follows some safety measures to keep her safe.
“I constantly check the app to be certain that the driver is taking the corresponding route to get to my destination,” she said. “I sit in the back and I talk with someone on the phone if I happen to be alone.”
Advice that Ortiz suggests to increase safety when trying to get to a destination would be calling someone during the drive and “informing the person that you are in an Uber and if they can do the favor of staying on the line with you.”
Sophomore Rama Thakur was “very nervous and anxious” when she heard about Josephson’s murder.
While Thakur said Uber has a “decent system to maintain users’ safety,” she also admitted that she is always “questioning every Uber driver” that she travels with.
“I am quite nervous about my own safety because I travel alone a lot, and sometimes, I think that the driver may not take me to my destination or that we could crash,” Thakur said.
Her advice for being safe when using rideshare services would be “travelling in groups” to avoid tragedies such as Josephson’s murder.