July 29, 2020

Chair DeFazio Applauds Passage of “Sami’s Law,” Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Ride-Share Safety

Washington, D.C. — Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) managed debate as the U.S. House of Representatives considered Sami’s Law (H.R. 4686). This legislation, sponsored by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Thomas Suozzi (D-NY), would require transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft to establish and implement a system allowing passengers to verify the driver they have been matched with when using the company’s platform. The legislation is named after Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina senior who was tragically murdered after she entered a vehicle she believed to be her Uber.

“Lawmakers at the Federal, State, and local level need to think beyond whether ride-hailing gets people from point A to point B, and work to ensure that TNCs deliver a public service safely and equitably, not a race to the bottom for passengers and transportation workers,” Chair DeFazio said in his remarks. “This bill is an important step in setting an appropriate regulatory floor.”

In October 2019, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing examining the future of TNCs. During the hearing, Representatives Smith and Suozzi urged Congress to pass Sami’s Law.

Chair DeFazio’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below, and can be viewed as delivered here.

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 4686.

This legislation marks the first step in Federal oversight of the safety of transportation network companies (TNCs).  I applaud the gentleman from New Jersey, Representative Smith, and the gentleman from New York, Representative Suozzi, for introducing this bill and tenaciously working through many iterations of the bill in order to bring it to the floor of the House with strong support.

Mobility and transportation patterns in many cities have been upended in recent years by companies that, through transformative technology platforms, have revolutionized how we travel. In a very short time, many people have come to rely on TNCs as a regular transportation option. These services, however, have operated with little transportation safety or regulatory oversight.

There are many aspects of TNCs that the Committee on Transportation has examined, including their impacts on congestion, on wages, and on public transportation use. We held a hearing last October in which a range of troubling aspects of the TNC model were brought to light. The Committee included provisions in H.R. 2 as passed by the House earlier this month that focused on how to put some guardrails around this new “mobility on demand” model to ensure these services supplement, rather than compete with, transit service.

But today, with this legislation, we focus on the most critical and challenging policy aspect of the TNC model – how to ensure the safety of passengers and drivers who utilize a ride-hailing platform. This bill is known as “Sami’s law”, in honor of Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old college student who was brutally murdered after she entered a car that she thought mistakenly was the Uber she hailed. I have met with her parents, Seymour and Marcie Josephson, and heard the heart wrenching story firsthand of how this split-second decision to enter that vehicle cost their daughter her life.

They have worked tirelessly on the legislation before us today, so that millions of others who use ride-hailing services can do so with safety protections in place. It is appalling that it took this tragedy for TNCs to admit that developing an app connecting passengers and drivers through technology and hoping for the best is woefully insufficient as a safety protocol. I am glad Uber and Lyft were finally willing to come to the table and agree to the basic safety precautions contained in H.R. 4686.

This bill requires TNCs, within 90 days of enactment, to establish and implement a digital means for a passenger to verify that the driver has been authorized by the TNC to accept the passenger’s trip request, prior to the start of the trip. Such a system must include the ability for the passenger, driver, and TNC platform to confirm the information matching the passenger to the authorized TNC driver or TNC vehicle, and the ability to restrict a trip from commencing until both the passenger and the TNC driver verify the other’s identity using the system.

The bill further ensures that TNCs will be able to continue to improve and innovate ways to maximize passenger and driver safety by establishing a process for the Secretary of Transportation to issue performance standards for successor verification technologies. The bill also establishes an advisory council of Federal officials, representatives of TNCs, TNC drivers, law enforcement, victims’ advocacy groups, and individuals with disabilities to develop recommendations on successor technologies.

The bill further prohibits the sale of any signage that is designed to help a passenger identify a TNC vehicle and contains a TNC’s proprietary trademark or logo, unless authorized by the TNC.

Finally, the bill directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the incidence of assaults on TNC passengers and TNC drivers and background checks conducted on prospective drivers of TNC vehicles, including any State and local laws which may require such background checks.

I have been focused on the potential dangers of pairing passengers with poorly vetted drivers for years. In June 2015, I wrote to then- Uber CEO Travis Kalanick urging the company to conduct fingerprint-based background checks.

In my district, a dozen applicants with serious criminal convictions, including a convicted murderer and a registered sex offender, were cleared through Uber and Lyft’s screening process and allowed to drive passengers. It wasn’t until the local police department performed their own background checks that these drivers were removed from service. Additionally, the local police department receives notifications of upcoming driver’s license suspensions and they receive real-time updates of driving infractions, accidents, and arrests to ensure that an unsafe driver does not remain on the road.

Strong and thorough vetting of potential drivers is the first line of defense to ensure passenger safety. While the study initiated by this bill will yield important data, I believe we will ultimately have to do more to truly protect the ride-hailing community. It will do little good to verify that you have the right driver if that driver has a history of and a desire to do harm to passengers.

Lawmakers at the Federal, State, and local level need to think beyond whether ride-hailing gets people from point A to point B, and work to ensure that TNCs deliver a public service safely and equitably, not a race to the bottom for passengers and transportation workers.  This bill is an important step in setting an appropriate regulatory floor.

I thank the gentleman for bringing this legislation before the House and urge my colleagues to support its passage.