Harry here. I get a lot of questions about driving minors on Uber and Lyft since, even though it’s against Uber and Lyft’s policies, we all know it still happens A LOT. Today, senior RSG contributor John Ince takes a look at how to deal with these situations.
If you’re driving in suburban or exurban areas you’re likely to encounter a fair number of requests from teens. As we’ve covered previously, it’s against Uber’s and Lyft’s terms of service for anyone under 18 to ride unaccompanied by an adult on the platform. Unfortunately, that won’t really help you because you’re still going to get requests, and you won’t know it’s a teen until you get there. Even then you may not know for sure how old they are. So here are ten tips for driving teens, drawn from my ample experience in Marin County, California.
Tip #1 – Don’t ask teens their age unless you’re sure you’re not going to take them
The big issue for drivers, and the company here, is potential liability. It’s a murky area of the law. I’ve talked with several cops about it, and they’ve pointed out that if you don’t ask the age of the passenger, you have a clear defense that you didn’t know how old they were, unless, of course, they are obviously underage. Uber / Lyft are finessing this issue by putting it in their TOS but that doesn’t necessarily absolve them if they’ve made no effort to educate passengers or enforce their prohibition. Of course, the best option is to give a good ride and avoid potential conflicts, which is what most of the following tips are about.
Tip #2 – Don’t assume teen riders understand the ratings system
After giving a fair number of rides to teens, I noticed something perplexing. Although almost all the rides had gone smoothly, my rating seemed to decline after evenings where I’d had teen passengers. My ride sample was small those nights so I was pretty sure the downdraft was coming from them. So I started taking a survey of teens and their standards of ratings to find out if they were operating on a different rating scale from other riders. This served three purposes: first, it gave me some feedback on the issue. Second, it helped to educate teens about the ratings system. Third, and most importantly, it started to reverse the trend of lower ratings.
I broached the subject casually, “hey, I’ve got a question for you about the rating system.” In almost every case, they were more than happy to talk about it, especially since so much of a teen’s life is influenced by grades they receive in school. Next, I’d ask, “do think 4 stars is a good rating?” The responses were a revelation to me. In almost every case, they replied, “yes.”
This was my opportunity to start a discussion about ratings. I worded it something like this: “actually, on the Uber platform a 4 star rating is a kiss of death for drivers. If a driver’s overall average rating falls below 4.6, they’re likely going to be fired.” “Omigod,” one girl said, “I feel so bad now. I almost always give a driver four stars unless they do something that’s really cool.”
Tip #3 – Talk about things teens are into
Teens are probably more prone to discomfort in an Uber car than others who’ve been around the block a few times in life. My approach to is to try to get them talking about things they’re interested in – with sports, music, theatre and school being the best candidates. I just happen to be interested in all of these, so it’s a natural conversation for me too. I also attend many local school events and actually have had several Uber passengers who I’ve watched on the athletic field. It’s pretty exciting for both of us to discover this. It often leads to a “do you know” scenario where we can start talking about coaches I know or a concert/play I’ve been to. Sometimes it can lead to some rather amusing surprises.
Tip #4 – The number one issue I’ve had with teens is over music
Many teens have it in their head that the Uber ride is their opportunity to jam out to their favorite music. It’s part of being an entitled teen, and as far as I’m concerned it’s fine with me – up to a point.
I have multiple options for music. I have an iPod connected to the car stereo with lots of options that I can access very easily. I also have Pandora set up with multiple stations. One thing I will not permit a passenger to do is to actually touch any of the wires or other equipment. I use a Kinivo bluetooth system that redirects sound from my phone through the car stereo system and it’s fairly elaborate wiring that I don’t want messed up. Usually one of these options satisfies teens, but one time I had four guys who were pretty jacked up, and they didn’t like any of the genres that I’d offered, dismissing each disdainfully after a few seconds and then one finally said, “just put the radio on.”
There was something in his tone that didn’t sit well with me, so I drew the line. “Do I get a say in this matter, since this is my car?” I asked. An awkward silence fell over the car and lasted until we’d arrived at their destination. When they got out of the car they slammed the doors and started banging on the outside of my car. I drove up a few blocks so I was out of view of these guys, but didn’t end the ride, so I could still call their mother, who’d requested the ride. I explained everything that happened and said that she was about to get a very low rating. I then offered to her that if she canceled the ride now, there would be no ratings involved – essentially a peace offering, which she accepted, and spared both of us of a low rating.
Tip #5 – Don’t expect Uber or Lyft to make any effort to educate passengers about this issue
Uber and Lyft are businesses. Their number one priority is generating revenues. To reduce their potential liability they take the public stance of prohibition, but actually they’re turning a blind eye to the issue with their real attention focused on the numbers. So if you want to drive on the Uber or Lyft platform, get used to the idea of occasionally driving teens.
Last week, I got a ride request from a teen in Marin. She was cool and volunteered that her father was on the board of directors of Uber. If an Uber director has an Uber account for his daughter, don’t expect the rest of the Uber organization to particularly support you if you start fighting them this issue. You might be right, but that’s not going to take you very far in a battle against them.
Tip #6 – Don’t let your feelings about one ride bleed into another ride
With well over a hundred requests from teens, I’ve only refused one. That decision was based only partially on the fact that she was underage. It was also the culmination of a gradual build up of strikes against the father, who’d requested the ride, and the lingering feelings about a teen ride the night before. Here’s what happened:
Friday night I got a request from 3 high school students, all girls, who seemed like they were jacked up on something. They had extreme attitude, wanted their own music, ordered me to takes turns that were not the most the direct route to 101. I kept my peace during the entire ride and defused the situation with small talk. Luckily, the ride went fine, but next day I see I’ve gotten one non-five star review out of only three new ratings. Pretty darn sure it’s them and I’m on my guard about teens.
Saturday night 10:30 PM, I get a ping for pickup in the back jungles of Marin, 18 minutes away. I figure, what the hey, I’m working on a guarantee, so accept it. Tortuous turns all the way and I finally arrive at a McMansion on a corner so dark I can’t read house numbers, but app says I’ve arrived.
There’s no sign of passengers, so I wait four minutes. I call passenger and he refuses to answer phone. Instead he texts me. Texts are not good way to communicate with drivers as it forces their eyes off road. Had he been outside or even looked out the window he would have seen me out front. He sends me on a wild goose chase up the hill and down, twice. Possibly a poor connection on the app is giving him inaccurate info about my whereabouts, I don’t know.
His tone over the phone is condescending as if I’m stupid for not finding his house, when I did find it and had been waiting out front for 4 minutes. Strikes against this guy are accumulating. He’s probably feeling the same way about me. I’m probably justified in canceling as a no show since it’s over 15 minutes since I originally arrived at his house. But we’ve talked over the phone and I know he is inside, so it’s not clear I could make a clear case for a cancellation. When I see the teen get in the car, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Me: (To the teen) How old are you?
Me: I can’t give you a ride.
Me: You have to be 18 to use the Uber platform
Mother: Shouting from driveway – We do it all the time.
Me: That doesn’t make it legal. Read Uber’s terms of service. Unless you’re 18 you can’t ride unaccompanied in an Uber.
Me: If you’d like I can report you to Uber and get your account de-activated.
End of conversation. I cancel as a no-show
Had I not been working on a guarantee, I would have wasted 45 minutes for a $3.75 no-show fee.
Were I of a different frame of mind, I probably would have just taken the teen without incident, since she seemed nice and none of what preceded this was her fault. Clearly what happened the night before and with the father’s attitude all colored my thinking.
If possible don’t let that stuff bleed over, but in the final analysis we’re all human. If it happens, don’t stew over it – just move on to the next ride.
Tip #7 – Play it especially safe with teens. The chances of anything happening are extremely low, but if it does, it could be devastating
Teens are like combustible commodities. You never quite know what’s going to set them off if their hormones are working overtime. You never know what other issues they’re dealing with. More than other passengers, always play it safe with teens. If at all concerned, cancel the ride.
Tip #8 – If you do refuse a ride to someone because they’re underage, you’re on safe legal ground on that issue, but that doesn’t prevent the parent or teen from making other stuff up about you
Refusing a ride to anyone is risky business. Even if you’re right, you can get de-activated if the passenger is pissed off at you and decides to fabricate a story about you. We all know the de-activation process is not just. Lyft is especially prone to de-activations on scant evidence. The whole process is tilted heavily in favor of the passenger, because the passenger is the one showing the money. So a smart driver factors this into their thinking. Don’t give passengers any reason to make stuff up about you, and they won’t.
This is an especially good reason to consider getting a dashcam (here’s the one I use). Any “he said / she said” disputes can be quickly resolved, presumably in your favor, if you’ve got the evidence in the form of video / audio footage.
Related Article: Our review of the top three dash cams for rideshare drivers
Tip # 9 – Enjoy the ride and the special freshness teens bring to it
The teenage years are a really special period in life. During those years all things seem possible. If you approach this with the right frame of mind, being an Uber / Lyft driver can become an opportunity to get a glimpse of life that is rare and at times wonderfully revealing.
The teenage years are a searching period in life when young people are trying to figure out how they fit into a very confusing world where they’re often getting conflicting signals from parents, teachers and peers. Kids will share stories and feelings with you that they won’t even share with their parents, because they know they will likely never see you again.
Last week, I gave a ride to one such young lady, mature beyond her years on her way to see the San Francisco Giants with friends. We started out talking about the Giants slump and ended up talking about all kinds of issues that were concerning to her and others of her age.
Tip # 10 – View each teen encounter as an unopened present
I try to view each new ride as an opportunity to open a present that’s been given to me. It’s especially true with teens who are full of surprises if you create a safe space where they feel they can open up. That’s the ultimate goal in life: to be completely present when life is unfolding before you. That’s why they call it the present.
Readers, what’s your experience with teen passengers and what do you do when you get a ride request for a teen?
-John @ RSG