As Lyft updates its safety features following sexual assault allegations, parents are takinFg even more caution when it comes to monitoring their kids’ every move when using rideshare apps.
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“They call me a helicopter mom. I’d rather be that because at least they know that I care, and their safety is my No. 1 priority,” New York City-based Lyss Stern, CEO of Diva Moms and a mother of three, told FOX Business.
Lyss Stern, CEO of DivaMoms.com. (Photo by Lindsay May Cook).
Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft have similar policies restricting minors under 18 from making an account or getting picked up without an adult present. But the reality is, many working parents use their own accounts to order cars for their kids when they can’t pick them up or arrange a carpool on the fly. And some drivers seem to be turning a blind eye, despite the companies' policies.
Stern takes extra caution. She vets an Uber driver’s rating and tracks the entire trip when she needs to summon a driver to pick up her 12-year-old son. She’ll text her seventh-grader a screenshot of the driver’s license plate number, their photo and vehicle type.
“I tell him, ‘Before you even get in the car, you go up to the window and say ‘who are you here to pick up?’ If he says the right name, then he has to double-check the license plate number,” Stern said, adding that her son texts her once he’s in the car. “Then I’ll track him. I’m annoyed about it, but I’d rather be annoying and have him be safe."
Uber says on its website that if a passenger looks young, a driver can ask to see their ID to verify their age. If a passenger is under 18, drivers are advised to decline the trip and report it to Uber.
Uber would not comment beyond the policies on its website.
Lyft has a similar policy that says unaccompanied minors are not permitted to ride.
“We send periodic reminders to drivers about this and other policies,” Dana Davis, a spokesperson for Lyft, told FOX Business in an email Wednesday, adding, “Those found in violation of this policy can be permanently banned from the Lyft service.”
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Rider safety has been an ongoing issue. Last week, 14 women sued Lyft over the alleged mishandling of their sexual assault, sexual misconduct and rape complaints against drivers summoned through the app. The women alleged that Lyft fails to ensure passengers are safe and that the company doesn’t conduct proper background checks. Mike Bomberger, an attorney who represents the victims, said Lyft received nearly 100 sexual assault complaints against its drivers in California and took no action, FOX 5 reported.
Lyft added a new 911 feature Tuesday that alerts authorities when passengers feel unsafe or in danger. It’s also requiring mandatory driver education and will implement a feature to check in with passengers and drivers if it notices a trip is delayed, it said in a blog post following concerns over the alleged sexual assaults by its drivers.
Uber has an in-app emergency button, and in some cities, when a passenger uses it to call 911, it makes certain trip details available to dispatchers, sending the car’s make, model and license plate.
Young people are at risk
Mourners depart after funeral services for Samantha Josephson at at Congregation Beth Chaim in West Windsor, N.J., on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. Authorities say Josephson, a college student, ordered an Uber ride early Friday but mistakenly got into a
Even adults who use ride-hailing apps are at risk. Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old New Jersey woman, was murdered in March after she called an Uber around 2 a.m. following a night out in Columbia, South Carolina. Josephson got into a black Chevy Impala she mistook as her ride. Her body was found in a field 90 miles from the city.
Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old South Carolina woman, was murdered in March when she called an Uber around 2 a.m.
And in January, 12-year-old Benita Diamond requested a ride after downloading the Uber app onto her mother's phone. The driver, in violation of the company's age policy, dropped her off at the pre-selected destination -- a parking garage in Orlando, Florida -- where she died by suicide. Her parents blame the company for her daughter's death, saying the driver should have asked her age before she got in the car. The incident is still being investigated.
Benita Diamond, a 12-year-old from Orlando, Florida, used her mother's phone to take an Uber to a parking garage where she died by suicide.
According to the recent lawsuit against Lyft, there were six reported incidents of women who had fallen asleep in the car and allegedly woke up to a Lyft driver sexually assaulting them. A Lyft driver pretended to help a passenger who had been drinking walk to their door before allegedly raping them in another reported incident.
David DeLugas, an attorney and executive director at Atlanta-based National Association of Parents, an advocacy group for parents, says even when parents track their kids' locations when using ride-sharing apps, they still could put them in danger.
"Parents who are violating the policies do so at their own risk. Even if you’re following your child on your app, you don’t know if the driver actually works for Uber or Lyft," DeLugas said.
Some ride-hailing startups have launched businesses in recent years aiming to tackle the issue of ensuring safe transportation for kids. Dallas-based company Bubbl bills itself as “the safest ride in town” and claims to be operated by certified first responders such as active or retired law enforcement. The vetting process includes background checks and drug screenings before drivers can get on the road. The minimum ride age is 8, and starting rates to ride are $17, with the average trip costing closer to $28, USA Today reported. Unlike Uber or Lyft’s on-demand rides, Bubbl must be ordered at least four hours in advance.
Some parents are still reluctant to allow their kids to get in any car with a stranger, period.
Erika Katz, author of "Coach Parenting." (Courtesy of Erika Katz).
“I don’t allow my daughter to take a ride-share by herself,” Erika Katz, author of “Coach Parenting” and mother of two teens, told FOX Business of not letting her 16-year-old get in the car with an Uber or Lyft driver by herself.
Her 18-year-old son uses the app, but she prefers he ride with a friend whenever possible.
Katz says teens should pull up the address of their destination on Google Maps before the ride so they can familiarize themselves with the driving route.
“Know where you’re going and the direction you should be headed in before they get in the car, that way, you know you’re going to the right place,” Katz said.