TRENTON, NJ - In a moving and somber hearing on Thursday, state lawmakers listened to the testimony of grieving parents, community officials, and industry representatives on the need to implement safeguards for those using ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
With his wife Marci at his side, Seymour Josephson held back tears as he spoke about the tragic murder of their daughter Samantha who was abducted and killed by a man posing as an Uber driver in March. Since Samantha’s death, just weeks before she was to graduate from the University of South Carolina, the parents, through the launch of the “What’s My Name?” Foundation, have undertaken a national effort to push for tougher safety measures in the ride sharing industry.
Josephson noted that while Samantha was a college student at the time the need for safety is “not just about high school or college students but for everyone in this room.”
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) called the loss of Samantha “a tragedy that should never happen again.”
“We’ve learned a lot through the testimony received today. I believe, as policymakers, we must make the necessary steps to strengthen the safety of these services for customers. With the passage of this legislation, New Jersey leads the nation with stricter regulations for rideshare services.”
Under the proposed law, a transportation network company (TNC), commonly considered a ride sharing service, would provide every driver with a two-dimensional barcode or other technology that is unique to that driver and their personal vehicle. The barcode would be used for identification purposes and would be scanned by a rider to confirm the identity of the driver as well as the vehicle. The ride sharing company would be required to provide every driver in its network with two copies of the two-dimensional barcode within 180 days of the enactment of the new law.
"What Seymour and Marci Josephson and their family have endured with the loss of their daughter Sami is a hardship that no family should face," said Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "No one should ever be concerned for the safety of themselves or their loved ones when using these services.”
Local leaders from the Josephson’s hometown of Robbinsville Township, including Mayor David Fried, sat with the family in support of them and the legislation.
Robbinsville Police Chief Christopher Nitti said that it is important to give ride sharing users more knowledge and power to protect themselves. He also called for more extensive criminal background checks on ride share drivers as well as other background checks beyond just criminal records.
"By placing a greater emphasis on visual safeguards, riders would be able to identify key items to confirm that they are entering a credentialed ride sharing vehicle. Ride sharing services have become increasingly popular and Sami's tragedy could have happened to anyone. This bill would honor Sami's life and help promote public safety," added Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer).
“Word cannot express the gratitude I have for the Josephson family for their courage in advancing the essential legislation. It’s a tragedy we had to lose a young person with a promising career in order to address the issue of rider safety,” Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) said. “The bill will educate and protect users and hopefully prevent future incidents from ever occurring again.”
"The bottom line is ride share services must be safe for both the rider and the driver. New Jersey should focus on improving identification tools used by customer to recognize their driver and the vehicle," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen.) “We have to do more to protect New Jersey residents; this cannot happen here. This bill takes us one step closer to achieving that goal."
Speaking on behalf of Uber, Josh Gold and Donald McCarthy pointed to the establishment of dedicated pick-up zones and GPS tracking that can be shared with parents or other individuals who want to track the travel of a loved one as measures undertaken by their company, while Lyft’s Doug Mehan noted that the information about the driver shared with users and continuous background checks of drivers.
Both companies testified in support of the legislation and also spoke about ways to send a color signal between a sign on the vehicle and cell phone of the user to connect them.
The legislation now goes before both the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly for further consideration.