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Take charge of safety when you use a ride service like Lyft or Uber

A worried father recently wrote to us:

My 17 year old daughter is very independent and frequently walks or takes public transit to school, to friends’ houses and to other activities. She and I have practiced Kidpower skills for being “on her own” for many years, and now she wants to occasionally use Uber/Lyft. I’m finding that I feel particularly worried about this option, even though there are certainly times where it might actually be the safer choice…and it could be extremely convenient for our family, as well! The thought of my child getting in a car with a stranger really troubles me. Are there safety skills we can practice that make ride-sharing safer?”

Uber and Lyft, as well as other ride-sharing app services, are becoming increasingly popular for young people as well as adults. While most people use these apps with no problems at all, there have been several incidents that highlight the need for “Safety While Ride-Sharing” tips and recommendations. Although Uber and Lyft have recently added more safety features to their apps, to make the experience better and safer for passengers as well as drivers. Also, even though Lyft and Uber have policies stating that a passenger must be 18 or older to ride unaccompanied by an adult, many parents feel that these services are safer than riding on a taxi, where the minimum age is 12, or the New York subway, with a minimum age limit of under 8.

The following recommendations from Kidpower are important regardless of age and also include safety tips from the Uber and Lyft websites:

  • Prepare for your ride. Before you request a ride, think carefully about where you want to go. Review the safety features in the app so you can find them quickly and know how to use them in an emergency.
  • Request your ride while you are still inside. It is virtually impossible to stay aware while looking down at your phone. Avoid spending unnecessary time outside with your phone in your hand, which can draw the wrong kind of attention. Instead, wait indoors until the app tells you that your driver is arriving or has arrived.
  • If you’re in a crowded area, pick a spot where your driver can easily find you. Choose an address where the driver can pull over without blocking traffic, and where it will be easier to find you in a timely fashion.
  • Don’t rely on the app to “pin” the correct location for your pickup. Instead, put in the address manually. Often, you can use the name of a building or a business, as both Uber and Lyft use Google Maps and will recognize these names.
  • Choose your drop-off location wisely. A well-lit, bustling area full of people is safer than an isolated side street. Before you hail the ride, confirm your drop-off location and make sure that you have entered the address correctly.
  • Protect your personal information. You never have to share your phone number or other contact information with your driver. If a rider and driver need to contact each other, the app will anonymize both phone numbers to protect your privacy as well as your driver’s privacy.
    • Stay aware during conversations in the car. While it can be interesting and fun to talk with your fellow passengers or the driver, remember that the driver is a stranger and be careful how you talk about or answer questions that may reveal your personal information. Many conversations in a car revolve around where you are going, what you will do there, and with whom you will meet up, etc. Beyond your drop-off address, you do not owe a stranger any of this or other personal information. You can respectfully decline to answer any question, or change the subject altogether, and still have interesting conversations.
  • Get in the right car! Before you get in, check that the license plate number, driver photo, and driver name all match what was sent to you by the app. Uber and Lyft rides can only be requested through the app, so never get in a car with a driver who says they drive for Uber or Lyft and offers you a ride.
    • Ask, “Who are you picking up?” before you get in. If it’s not you, do NOT get in! Don’t assume, just because the car has an Uber or Lyft sticker, that it’s genuine.
  • Get in and out of the car on the passenger side. Wait for the car to pull up and stop before stepping off the curb or into the street to approach your ride. Sometimes ride-share cars pull up on the other side of the street from you. Let them turn and come to your side before you get in instead of walking through traffic to get to the car. Insist on being dropped off somewhere safe for you to get out of the car, away from the traffic.
  • Sit in the back seat. If you are riding alone, sit in back. This way, you will have the freedom to exit from either side of the car if you need to do so to be safe. This arrangement also gives you and your driver some personal space.
  • Always use your seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is required by law, and is the best way to keep yourself safe from injury in a car crash. Sometimes drivers start moving before you or your other passengers have their seat belts on. Speak up and ask them to wait while you finish getting the belt fastened. (One Kidpower mom told us she leaves her door a little open until her child’s booster seat and and her belt are fully fastened, just to make sure the driver waits.)
  • Share your ride details with a friend. Once you are on your way, tap “Share Status” in the app to share your driver’s name, photo, license plate, and location with a friend or family member. They can track your trip and see your estimated arrival time without needing to download the app.
  • Stay aware while riding, as you would while walking down the street. Pay attention by keeping your earbuds out, noticing if the route your driver is following is correct, and by avoiding unnecessary conversation or texting on your phone.
  • Trust your instincts and use your best judgement when riding. Speak up immediately if anything feels unsafe or if you notice any illegal behavior (speeding, erratic driving, making phone calls, etc.), even if you feel embarrassed or worried that this will upset your driver. Your safety matters most!
  • If you feel you’re in an emergency situation, both Lyft and Uber now offer a panic button that calls 911 through their apps. Make sure you know how to do this before you take a ride. Be prepared to yell for help from an open window. If possible, have the local number for the police stored in your phone.
  • Be willing to walk away from your ride (and your money and your luggage!) for the sake of your safety.
  • For younger riders, consider ride-sharing apps geared specifically to children, in which drivers go through very extensive vetting and background checks. While it’s still vital for children to follow the safety tips above, parents can have more peace of mind knowing that the drivers have jumped through many hoops before being authorized to drive. Some of them even offer the chance for parents to meet drivers in advance. HopSkipDrive, GoKart, Zum, and Kango are examples of companies specializing in rides for kids.

Reward good behavior and report bad behavior: Uber and Lyft offer the opportunity to rate your driver and give feedback after every ride. Your driver also gets to rate YOU. If you had a great driver, give a positive rating! A three-stars-or-fewer rating means that you will never be matched with that driver again (your driver can say the same about you). If you felt uncomfortable or unsafe during your ride, help others by speaking up right away and being specific about the kinds of behavior you experienced. Both Lyft and Uber list phone numbers on the “Safety” sections of their sites where you can report unsafe behavior directly.

Some thoughts about ride-sharing when you are not sober or alert: If you are impaired from alcohol or drug use, or illness, you might not be able to follow many of the safety tips listed above. While taking a Lyft or Uber ride is much safer than getting behind the wheel yourself, being tipsy, drunk or high can significantly restrict your judgment and potentially put you in danger. Planning ahead to make sure you can ride with a non-impaired person you know is a good idea. Sometimes the safest choice might be to give yourself time to sober up by staying where you are. Use caution, plan ahead, and let others know where you are going in a ride-sharing car whenever possible.

Millions and millions of people all over the world use ride-sharing services every day, and there are comparatively very few problems. Remember the Kidpower belief that most people are GOOD, so most ride-sharing drivers are going to be good — but you cannot know just from looking at someone if they are a good person or a good driver! Be prepared to take charge of your safety before, during, and after your ride, and remember that your driver might also have concerns about safety during a ride with a stranger. Be sure to thank them for picking you up and dropping you off safely!

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Published: June 6, 2019   |   Last Updated: June 6, 2019

Since learning about Kidpower in 2011, Ellen has become a certified instructor and a powerful Kidpower advocate who plays many important roles in our organization. As our Lead Program Coordinator, Ellen organizes hundreds of workshops serving thousands of people in California every year.

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