Ridesharing has been a blessing for public safety. Getting a ride home late at night is easier and safer for many women thanks to ridesharing. The introduction of Uber in cities like Portland, Oregon, also led to a substantial reduction in alcohol-involved crashes.
Despite being largely safe, unfortunate incidents have occurred. One incident has spurred federal legislation that could negatively impact innovation in ridesharing by introducing new regulations that may not significantly improve customer safety.
Sami’s Law was reintroduced into the U.S. House of Representatives recently and will likely be considered by Congress in the very near future. This measure is named after Samantha “Sami” Josephson, a young woman who was kidnaped and brutally murdered by a killer pretending to be her Uber driver near the University of South Carolina. It was truly a tragic story.
However, federal lawmakers are using a tragedy to regulate ridesharing companies. The policies they want to advance may be well-intentioned but could do more harm than good.
Sami’s Law would require that Uber, Lyft, and other platforms employ a digital access system to match drivers with passengers before the ride begins through a PIN as a system default. This sounds like a good idea in theory. These apps are already implementing measures to increase security and ensure that the right passengers enter the right vehicles. The practical execution of a mandatory PIN system may not be useful for everyone.
Jessica Melugin explained in a blog post for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI):
Riders can opt-in for the extra safeguard today. But the service is opt-in, not opt-out, because, while it might be useful in some situations, like a woman traveling alone late at night, it might prove unnecessary and cumbersome in other scenarios, such as that same woman rushing to get in her Uber with her husband, small children, and a stroller in a rainstorm. When time is of the essence, the picture of the driver, license plate number, color, make, and model of the car might more than suffice. If this option proves popular with consumers, it’s likely that Uber competitors will offer their own version of the service.
We might also envision logistical challenges for riders who arrange rides for other people such as a granddaughter who books a ride for her grandmother or organizations providing rides to voting precincts on election day. While the grandmother may know the make, model, and license plate number, if she doesn’t receive the PIN, she may not be able to get to her destination.
How many people have had the experience of booking a ride just before their phone died? In such a situation, they may also lack access to the PIN but if they know the vehicle they could still access their rides safely.
Riders should determine for themselves whether they want this added security feature rather than being forced to take it and then opt-out.
Sami’s Law also authorizes new federal regulatory power over ridesharing companies. The measure recommends creating a 17-member advisory council that reports to the Secretary of Transportation which will propose safety standards for the rideshare industry.
Americans for Tax Reform explains what this new panel would likely do:
Democrats will use the commission to attack independent contractor drivers. As shown by their assault on independent contractors through California’s AB5 and the congressional PRO Act, Democrats are eager to force drivers into becoming [union-dues paying] employees. They will use the commission—under the guise of “safety”—to regulate independent contractors out of existence.
Once the bill is in place, Democrats will move to cut off highway funds for states which do not impose a vehicle inspection regime. Democrats have already written down their next step: force states to impose a vehicle inspection regime. If states fail to comply, Washington will cut off 2.5% of their highway funds.
The desire to ensure that what happened to Sami does not happen to anyone else is understandable and even noble. Private companies are actively working on ways to ensure that their platforms are safe for consumers.
However, inserting a heavy-handed government response will not necessarily make ridesharing safer, but increased regulation may lead to other unintended consequences.