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Last weekend, 21-year-old University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson called for an Uber after leaving the popular college’s Five Point entertainment district around 2 a.m. 

What happened next is a every parent’s worst nightmare. Josephson got into a car that was not the Uber ride she had called for, but instead was driven by a predator.

She was found dead in a rural field three hours later, and her killer, the one who easily picked her up by impersonating an Uber driver, was arrested and charged with first degree murder.

Strangely enough, when I sent my kids to college without cars, ride services such as Uber and Lyft were the one thing giving me some comfort. I was overjoyed that we could save money on car insurance, gas, parking tickets, and other car-related expenses, and I was even more at peace that the chances of one of my sons driving drunk was greatly reduced because there was always a “safe” ride around the corner. Literally.

Visit any college campus and its surrounding bar scene, and there are Ubers lined up at the ready prepared to shuttle students safely home just mere minutes after they’re requested. No more standing around for an hour while waiting for a taxi, and students can even request vehicles that are able to accommodate several students at once. I often see several Uber charges on my credit card for amounts under $2.00, my son explaining to me, “It’s when a bunch of us share an Uber van home. It’s the cheapest way to go. We do it all the time!”

And therein lies the problem. Our young adults have grown so accustomed to the convenience, ease, and availability of ride services, they’ve become immune to the fact there are still potential dangers involved.

But those dangers aren’t limited to what an Uber or Lyft driver has the ability to do to a passenger; those dangers have become something else entirely. You see, because ride services like these have become so commonplace on campuses, when large groups of students go out to drink, they have no need for a designated driver. That means everyone in the group can and probably will be drinking, and all without one person staying sober.

But designated drivers do more than just drive. By staying sober, they’re also the remaining voice of reason and judgment, and can ensure everyone gets home safely—even when it’s with a ride share service. When the evening drinking plans include everyone just being able to get a ride home with Uber, everyone partakes, which means nobody is clear-headed enough to ensure the rides home are legitimate and safe.

We can remind students over and over again about all the ways they can check and double-check how to verify it is an actual Uber vehicle, but when their judgment is clouded, how can we expect them to have the wherewithal to even remember, let alone go through all the safety tips?

This week, in the aftermath of the Josephson tragedy, lawmakers in South Carolina have proposed a bill that would make it easier for riders to identify Uber and Lyft cars. The proposal would require drivers to display illuminated stickers on their windshields. Under current law, only reflective decals are required. The bill, which was filed by Representative Seth Rose, who lives just minutes from where Josephson was picked up, plans to name it the Samantha L. Josephson Ridesharing Safety Act. Seymour Josephson, Samantha’s father, supports the bill, and said he plans to put pressure on those ridesharing companies to better identify their vehicles.

He stated, “Samantha was by herself, she had absolutely no chance.”

By herself.  

That may be the single most crucial aspect we can take away from this as parents and students.

Samantha Josephson was alone at the time she was picked up by her killer, and whether or not she was drinking or her judgment was impaired doesn’t really matter, but her being alone absolutely does.

If you’re a college student and you’re reading this, it’s imperative you never leave someone in your nighttime partying crowd alone to get home on their own. Never. If you’re a young man, it’s your responsibility to escort the females home, to make sure they’re not getting into any car alone with a stranger, and to most definitely  accompany them if you all choose to use a ride share service. If you’re a young woman, it’s your responsibility to watch out for yourself and your friends, and to never assume they can get home safely alone.

And even though you all won’t need a sober member or designated driver to get everyone home, it’s still a smart and safe idea for someone in the group to STAY SOBER. 

Look at it this way: you can think of them not a designated driver, but as a designated rider.

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Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer, adjunct librarian, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Awareness Ambassador. She writes at http://www.4boysmother.com/. Her writing can be found all over the internet, but her work is mostly on the dinner table.

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