Uber will let teens ride on their own, with parents tracking

Until now, teens weren’t supposed to ride alone in an Uber.

Starting May 22, the carrier will add an option in some cities to allow minors between the ages of 13 and 17 to ride alone in one of their vehicles. The new service will be launched in more than a dozen cities in the US and more in Canada, and it requires passengers to use a special family account.

It was officially against the company’s terms of service for children riding alone and the driver could report anyone they suspected was under 18. They create their own accounts or check out from their parents or friends, and go to school, jobs or home safely after the party.

“There are cases when teens get into Ubers. This situation is not good for the driver, teen or parent due to lack of visibility,” said Sachin Kansal, vice president of product management at Uber.

The new program will automatically make a number of existing safety features mandatory for younger passengers. Their smartphones will make a coded audio recording of the ride, they’ll have to give drivers a PIN before starting the ride, the app will display emergency options if it detects something is wrong and parents can monitor the ride live with their own device. One of the new features is that parents can contact the driver directly while riding.

According to Uber, only certain drivers will be allowed to deliver minors. They’ll need to have high ratings and a certain amount of driving experience for the company — at least hundreds of trips, Kansal said, though the company doesn’t share caps. There will be no additional background checks or training for drivers who pick up teens and the company still doesn’t do fingerprint-based background checks. However, it will frequently re-run its checks on specific drivers.

Kansal said Uber has been quietly testing the program for three months and hopes to expand it to the rest of the country.

Some of the primary cities include Tucson, Phoenix, Atlanta, Bloomington, Indiana, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Mauritania, New York and Houston.

Drivers the company determines are eligible for teen rides in the test cities are automatically selected in the program, but Uber says they have the option to opt out of all underage rides in their settings.

Uber piloted a similar teen program in three cities in early 2017, before Dara Khosrowshahi took over as CEO later that year. The program was criticized at the time for not providing enough transparency for drivers or safety features for passengers and was closed.

Other companies like HopSkipDrive have tried to fill the void, offering rides to younger kids and using extensive background checks and training.

Allowing children under the age of 18 to ride in a car alone with a stranger is a serious problem for parents. Uber has fought for safety in the past and has begun releasing reports detailing the number of rapes and assaults every two years.

However, services may be necessary for some families when public transportation is not an option, parents are at work or teens do not own a car.

The percentage of American teens who obtain a driver’s license has decreased in recent years, according to the Federal Highway Administration. One in eight parents say their son has taken a horseback riding trip, according to a 2019 survey by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. Two-thirds of parents said they were worried about drivers sexually assaulting their teens, and three-quarters were concerned about their driving safety.

Teen games were one of a number of new features the company announced Wednesday, in an effort to add both younger and older customers to the ever-expanding list of services in its app. Uber is also expanding access to a phone calling option so that people who are still uncomfortable using apps can call from a mobile phone to book a ride. Teens will be able to order Uber Eats on their family accounts, although drugs and alcohol are banned. There are also features for segmenting grocery orders and rides based on each rider’s distance.

The company is also testing an option to book a different type of ride.

“If you find yourself in Greece this summer, what you can do is order a boat in Mykonos,” Kansal said.

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