The death of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson sent shockwaves throughout the country after she mistook her killer’s car for the Uber she called to get home. Josephson’s murder opened a nationwide discussion about the safety of ride-sharing and the complicated relationship that college towns have with Uber and other similar services.
University of Mississippi students regularly experience their fair share of ride sharing mishaps.
Students tell stories about unwarranted advances from drivers, inappropriate offers or strange conversations, all of which underscore the climate of fear and uncertainty surrounding ride-sharing.
Freshman accountancy major Caroline Barton said one Uber driver has repeatedly asked her on dates and sent her multiple direct messages through social media. Sophomore general business major Will Gentry said an Uber driver told him she was high on marijuana during the ride. Recent graduate Taylor Hayes said one Uber driver slept on her couch after dropping her off.
“After the LSU game my freshman year, I was coming home from a fraternity late night at 3 a.m. She kept saying how horrible the drive back to East Memphis was going to be because she was so tired. For some reason, I offered her to sleep on my couch in my basement,” Hayes said.
Sophomore political science major Livie Ruhl said she once feared for her life when she was riding alone and her Uber driver went into a fit of rage during their conversation.
“It started with road rage,” Ruhl said. “He would scream violently whenever a car would turn and not use a blinker. Then, he started yelling about when he smashed a plate over a man’s head at the bar and said he would do the same thing to a woman. He was screaming so loudly and violently that I was just praying to get back to my dorm.”
The average salary of an Uber driver in Oxford is $36,687 a year according to Glassdoor.com, and Uber drivers can make hundreds of dollars driving one weekend night on the Square.
While many of Oxford’s Uber drivers are locals, the demand for ride-shares has drawn an influx of people from cities all around Mississippi and West Tennessee.
Local Uber driver Danny Thomas says he once picked up a couple from an Ole Miss football game who hit him and called him racial slurs because he didn’t say “ma’am.”
“I said ‘Ma’am, don’t touch me like that again,’” he said. “And before I knew it, (the man in the back) hit me on the back of the head and said, ‘(Slur), you don’t talk to a white woman without permission,’” he said.
Thomas had another unusual experience when he picked up a female student from a fraternity house and had to take her to the emergency room.
“She called an Uber and when I got her, she was stumbling, and she said ‘I think I need to go to the hospital, I’ve been drugged,’” he said.
The Board of Aldermen feared scenarios like these when it banned Uber in 2014. To avoid complying with Oxford’s vehicle for hire guidelines, Uber lobbyists worked to change Oxford city code to distinguish their company as different. House Bill 1381 passed, classifying Uber as a “transportation business network,” and Uber returned to Oxford on July 1, 2016.
While the Board of Aldermen loosened restrictions on ride-sharing, Uber has increased protections for riders.
The Uber app now has safety features that allow you to call 911 directly from the app, and Uber suggests checking the license plate and asking the driver to tell you your name before entering the vehicle.
When University Police Department and Campus Safety Chief Ray Hawkins emailed the Ole Miss student body in response to Josephson’s death, he urged students to be vigilant about Uber and provided tips on rideshare safety.
“Trust your intuition,” Hawkins said. “Use your best judgment when using a ride-share service. If you ever feel you are in an emergency situation, call 911 immediately or contact the University Police Department at (662) 915–7234.”