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Is it safe for kids to use ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft?
More and more teenagers are using apps to hail a ride somewhere. There are some precautions parents should take if they allow this. Moms and dads should be educated on how it all works and ways to ensure their kids stay safe. - photo by Amy Iverson
If you havent yet, you will sometime soon likely get a text from your teenager asking, "Mom, is it OK if my friends and I Uber to the football game tonight?" And while you may have used a ridesharing service plenty of times to get to your meeting from the airport, you havent really considered whether your kids should be using the service alone.

For those who have only heard of ridesharing but dont understand how it works, heres the primer. For a ride from one place to another, a user can open the app that pins a current location. The rider puts in the destination, and the app will estimate how much it will cost and how close a driver is to the pick-up location. When the driver picks up the passenger, the app starts charging. Since the app has the riders credit card information, theres no need for cash and the transaction all takes place through the app.

The two most popular ridesharing apps, Uber and Lyft, are fairly equal when it comes to pricing, and are both somewhat less expensive than a traditional taxi service. To calculate the cost of each ride, the companies take into account the time of day, the distance and which level of car is requested.

It costs around $1 to start a ride, and then the companies charge about $1.50 per mile and $0.25 per minute. Both companies also charge a lot more during busy times, which riders will see noted on the apps maps.

Both companies say safety is a huge priority for them. Uber and Lyft have third parties that perform background checks on their drivers, but without fingerprinting.

Right now both apps require account holders to be 18 years old. There isnt a huge emphasis on this, though, as they only require users to check a box stating they are 18, with no proof needed.

In March, Uber began something called "teen accounts" in a few U.S. cities. Parents can set up accounts for kids ages 13-17 that come with a few cool features. Ubers app will notify parents when their child requests a ride, and it will cost an extra $2. The app also notifies parents with trip details and progress, and parents will be able to contact the driver if needed during the ride. Uber says it will only use experienced and highly rated drivers for these teen trips, and those drivers are not notified that they will be transporting a minor.

But if you are not in one of those cities with the teen account pilot program (Seattle, Phoenix or Columbus), then your other option is to allow your child to use your account. Many parents do this, but there are some precautions to take and talk about with your children.

Your child should ask permission first for a couple of reasons. The cost is certainly one. Many parents have had a bit of a shock to find their kids have been using their Uber or Lyft account only after checking a credit card statement.

Also, when a child requests a ride, they can then send you the trip details right through the app so you can follow along with the real-time GPS. They can also screenshot the driver details so that you have record of the license plate, car information and name of the driver giving your child a ride.

Have your children wait inside for their ride to show up. The app notifies the user when the driver has arrived, so there is no need to wait outside where it might be more dangerous.

Talk with your children about keeping personal information to themselves. The driver will have no way of knowing if the address is a home address or a friends. Just like on social media, kids should know never to share details about their lives that should remain private.

Its a personal call, but I would not feel comfortable allowing my children to ride alone. With that said, dont be alarmed by the sensationalized horror stories you may have heard about crimes committed by drivers. The website Whos Driving You has tons of scary tales, but please realize that website is maintained by the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association, which has a vested interest in seeing ridesharing services fail. We have no solid evidence that any more crime is committed by Uber and Lyft drivers than has been committed by taxi drivers in the past.

Parents should discuss whether or not ridesharing is a good option for their children before the question arises. Debate the pros and cons now and set up some rules with your kids before you get that midnight phone call asking if they can Uber home.
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