As many older teens prepare to leave home for college or embark on other types of journeys, some may begin to use ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft and this raises safety concerns for many parents, according to the findings of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan.
One in three parents reported that their 18-year-old has used a ride-sharing service, either alone or with another teen.
Parents’ biggest concerns involved driving safety and risk of sexual assault by a driver. And although there are rules prohibiting unaccompanied minors from getting a ride through such services, one in eight parents (13 percent) reported their teen aged 14-17 had used one.
“Ride-sharing services are increasingly used as a convenient way to get around for adults and may potentially also be an attractive option for teens with busy schedules and social lives,” said poll co-director and Mott pediatrician Gary Freed, M.D., MPH. “Company policies prohibit minors from riding without an adult, but these rules can be difficult to enforce and it may be challenging to verify a rider’s age.”
“Sometimes parents and teens may find themselves in a bind for transportation and look for ways around the rules.”
Three in four parents worried about unsafe driving issues such as speeding or the driver being distracted by a phone. Over half were also concerned the driver would be impaired from alcohol or drugs, and half were worried their teen would not wear a seat belt.
Two in three parents also had concerns that the driver might sexually assault their teen. This concern was more common among parents for their daughters than for their sons (79 percent versus 55 percent) and for teens aged 14-17 compared with 18-year-olds (69 percent versus 58 percent.)
Ride-sharing safety was recently in the news after a tragic case involving a South Carolina college student who was killed after mistakenly getting into what she believed was her Uber ride. A bill has since been introduced in the South Carolina Legislature to require Uber and Lyft drivers to use illuminated signs marking their vehicles.
In some communities, “kid-friendly” ride-sharing services have also been launched, typically involving a specific pool of drivers from which parents can choose to interview and select for future rides.
“If teens do use a ride-share service, families should discuss practical and important strategies to stay safe,” Freed says. For example, parents should tell their kids to always match the driver’s description, car and license plate to what was provided, in addition to traveling with a friend and not alone, being alert and aware of surroundings and paying attention to whether the driver is being safe and going to the right place.
Teens should know that if they feel they are in any danger, they should ask the driver to stop the car or call 911. Parents may also consider using technology to track the route of their teen to make sure the ride goes as planned, Freed noted.
“Before teens use any ride-sharing service, parents should discuss the potential dangers and develop a strategy with their teen,” Freed said.
“Teens may feel awkward or inhibited to speak up if they notice a driver is not driving safely or if something does ‘not feel right’ about the car or the driver. Parents should empower their teens to feel comfortable to speak out or refuse a ride. They should be reminded that they are getting into a vehicle with someone they do not know and that it is essential for them be especially attentive to anything that may risk their safety.”