One phenomenon I’ve noticed since becoming an Uber driver is how often parents are sending rides for their kids. As a matter of fact, a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Uber is the New Family Chauffeur” reports that teens are using their own smartphones to request Uber rides for themselves and friends through the accounts of their parents. While my kid passengers’ ages range from middle school to high school (have’t noticed any very young unaccompanied minor), a number of Uber passengers are under the age of 18. While Uber’s policy forbids children under 18 to establish their own accounts and riding unaccompanied, the reality is that many working parents seem to be increasingly comfortable with using Uber as a trusted car service.
How safe Uber is for passengers can be debated until we’re blue in the face, especially since each state has their own rules and regulations for drivers. However, any time there are unaccompanied preteens and teenagers going from point A to point B, there should be extra checks and balances both within the app, and for parents and drivers, to ensure the safest experience during the ride.
Here are my suggestions for parents to consider when sending an Uber for their kids:
1. TEXT THE DRIVER TO LET THEM KNOW TO EXPECT A MINOR.
Most Uber passengers are aware that once you book a ride, you can contact your driver immediately. About a fourth of the time I get a call or text from a passenger letting me know exactly where they are, or that I will be picking up someone else. However, only once have I gotten a phone call that I would be picking up someone’s daughter from school. This type of upfront notification can put the driver in a position to reject the ride if they don’t want to transport a kid. But, it’s definitely better to know immediately if a driver does not want an unaccompanied minor in their car instead of when he or she sees your kid getting in. Also, it can encourage your driver to be more alert while looking for a young person when they arrive.
2. BE ON SPEAKER PHONE WITH EITHER THE DRIVER OR YOUR CHILD WHEN THE CAR ARRIVES.
Now, I get it. A lot of times parents are sending Uber for their kids because they are important professionals with demanding schedules, which prevents them from being available at certain points of the day. However, there is something to be said about taking a few minutes to ensure that your child is actually getting into the car that you arranged for them. It may be asking a lot to require a speaker conversation between a child, parent and driver, but I imagine the practice could do a lot to positively impact the behavior of both the kid and the driver. Of course the age of the kid/teenager would determine if said phone call is actually warranted. But, a parent taking an extra step to confirm who’s car their child is getting into is certainly a step worth taking. The few times I’ve picked up unaccompanied minors, only once or twice have parents been on the phone with their kid at the point of pickup, but I always notice when a kid gets in and there’s no interaction between me, them and the parents. While parents are able to see on the app when the car arrives, when it is en route, where it’s going, and when it’s arrived, along with the driver’s car model, license plate and the driver’s name, at the end of the day, there is only so much you really know as a passenger until you get into the car.
3. HAVE A FRIEND RIDE WITH YOUR KID.
What kid wouldn’t like taking a ride with a friend? While there may not always be a classmate or neighbor going in the same direction, it could be worth it to see if your child has a friend that can join the ride from point A to point B. This way, if anything worth reporting immediately occurs, either from the driver or the other kid, there is at least a third person there. Of course, this will only be helpful if one or both of the unaccompanied minors is trustworthy and responsible! Otherwise, two kids in the car may be worse for the driver!
4. MAKE SURE YOUR KID ALWAYS HAS THE ADDRESS TO THEIR DESTINATION.
Often times when people book their Uber ride, they forget to add the destination up front. This is easily managed when they get in; either they’ll tell me their destination or enter it themselves in the app. However, parents sending cars for their kids may forget to add the destination, though the child/teenager has come out to get in. Making sure they have the address or an alternate destination is always useful. Often passengers like to give directions to a driver, so it can be empowering for a child if they are familiar with the directions to the location where they’ll be dropped off, as well. There is also something to be said about dropping teenagers off at suspect locations. Like the time in September when I dropped three Long Island teen girls off at a Sunday night house party (holiday on Monday, apparently) that looked like a scene from John Hughes’ 1998 cult classic Can’t Hardly Wait!
5. HAVE SOMEONE COME OUT AND MEET THE KID ONCE THEY’VE ARRIVED.
This is probably asking a lot for a passenger who is a teenager, considering most city kids come and go as they please anyway! But, growing up there was never a time I could get into someone’s car without one of my parents seeing for themselves who was driving. Long gone are the days of that type of over-protectiveness, but it’s not a bad idea to have someone come out to meet your kid at the car once they have arrived at the destination. Having someone confirm that the child will be going into a safe environment once they leave the car is a precaution worth considering. I wouldn’t expect teenagers to be on board with this plan, but for elementary or middle school kids who might being Ubering around by themselves, you can file this suggestion under: Safety first!