Uber and Lyft’s rise in popularity over the last 10 years has made them a common go-to when considering transportation. For people without a car, or who find their local bus and train system inconvenient and often unreliable, the two ride sourcing companies can be a Godsend. For parents juggling work and kids, an affordable ride that is just a few finger taps away can be difficult to resist. 

What parent hasn’t dreamed of having a chauffeur ready to whisk the kids to school, soccer practice, or their friend’s house at a moment’s notice? What many parents and minors often don’t know, is that neither Uber nor Lyft are in the kid chauffeuring business. Both companies share the same policy that anyone under 18 is not allowed to have an account or ride without someone 18 or older. Unfortunately, this isn’t common knowledge and it’s not made obvious. Anyone with a smartphone can set up an account. All they need is a phone number, email and method of payment. Plenty of kids have all three of these, or access to them. 

The drivers are made aware of these rules when they first hire on, but they’re not reinforced in any way.  Drivers have no way of knowing the age of a passenger until they arrive. Even then, many younger teenagers can pass for 18, 19 or their early 20s. Asking for an ID runs the risk of annoying someone in their early 20s. Repercussions could result in receiving low star reviews from their passengers, which can lead to less rides sent their way.

Driver EJ Providence has driven for both Uber and Lyft for four years and counting. He comes across the problem of transporting a minor without an adult at least a few times a week.

“I’ve been told it’s pretty frequent among us drivers,” Providence said. “Uber isn’t very good about compensating for lost time and efforts. By the time we arrive we just want to get paid and get the trip over with. We don’t get paid for mishaps like this.” 

Lyft and Uber driver Cassandra Ballard frequently picks up minors as well. An incident where a father asked her to take his daughter to school, without him, left her uneasy. The child appeared to be about eight or nine years old. The father explained that he had no vehicle; there was no school bus to pick her up and no public bus that came near their home. The school was a few miles away and the father needed to get to work. 

Ballard is about 5’2”, petite and sweet mannered. It’s not a stretch to see her as a trustworthy person who wouldn’t harm a fly, yet alone a child. But she is not the average driver. If a tall and muscular male had shown, would the father had entrusted his child with that driver? And is it ever okay to put your child in a vehicle with a stranger?

Both Uber and Lyft conduct background checks on their drivers using a third party that looks at their driving record and whether they have a criminal record. Despite this, both companies currently face lawsuits from multiple women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by their drivers.

In response, the ride source companies recently rolled out continuous background checks that monitor drivers daily rather than checking on them annually. This has already resulted in many drivers being removed. Over the years, Uber has also added several safety features to its app. It includes a 911 button, anonymizing rider pick-up and drop-off locations and a way to make it easier for customers to share their trip information with friends and family. Uber’s latest app feature is called RideCheck. Introduced in September of 2018, the feature sends a push notification to drivers and riders if there’s an unexpected long stop or possible crash asking if everything is okay. Both rider and driver can then respond, and Uber’s safety team follows up from there.

Soon after, Lyft also came out with a similar feature called smart trip check in. If a ride has unexpected delays, a message is sent to rider and driver asking if they need support. An option to request emergency assistance says, “Did you arrive safely?” and “Just checking in: You’re still at your last drop off location–are you okay?”

Children under 18 can use these features on the app as well. The question is, should they be breaking the policy that puts them in a situation where they have to use the safety features? 

Another driver, Joey, who asked only that his first name be used, feels that putting unaccompanied minors into a ride sourcing vehicle puts both the drivers and the children in an uneasy situation.

“Uber should notify us if the account is owned by someone less than 18,” said Joey. “There should be an option where riders confirm that they are 18 or over, or if they are a parent, so they can be prompted each time they get a ride.”

Joey added that parents or legal guardians should be reminded of Uber and Lyft’s policy on the matter. 

All three drivers said they would not put their own small children in a vehicle with a stranger. But they also agreed that if the minor is a responsible 16- or 17-year-old, they are more likely to be lenient about it.

Passengers of all ages should be careful when using a ride sourcing company. There are some safe practice suggestions for everyone. If parents allow their kids to ride without an adult or think that their children might be using Uber or Lyft without their knowledge, it’s a good idea for the whole family to go over these tips together.

  1. Never Give your name: Always ask the driver for your name before approaching the car. If that person is your driver, he or she will know.
  2. Verify the driver’s picture and vehicle: See if the driver’s photo matches. If you’re not sure ask for his or her name. Make sure the model of the car and license plate number match. Google a picture of the car if you’re not sure what the model looks like.
  3. Use trip-sharing features. Both Lyft and Uber have in-app trip sharing features that let you share live updates on your trip. Simply hit “Share trip status” in Uber or “Share route” in Lyft.
  4. Choose your seat carefully.  It’s suggested sitting in the back is safer because you have two possible exits and more space between you and the driver. In addition, sitting on the passenger side instead of directly behind the driver will allow you to keep an eye on both the driver and the road. Consider it a red flag if the driver tries to force you into a certain seat. 
  5. Make it obvious the trip is being tracked. Make a phone call and tell someone you’re in an Uber or Lyft. If they don’t answer leave a voicemail. An example might be: “Hey mom, just letting you know that I’m in my Uber now. I’ll be there in about 15 minutes and you can also follow me on the app. See you in a bit.”
  6. Trust your gut. If anything about your driver or route seems uncomfortable or “off,” don’t hesitate to remove yourself from the situation and notify your family or friends. Prioritize your wellbeing over your passenger rating. If your instincts are tingling, don’t get in the car or if you are en route end the ride if you’re in a safe place to exit.
  7. Give honest feedback about your trip and driver. If anything about your trip made you uneasy don’t hesitate to report it. You may have avoided harm, but the next person might not be so fortunate. 

Don’t forget that you need to follow the rules too. Be a good passenger. Wear your seatbelt and don’t distract the driver. If sharing the ride, be courteous to the other passengers.