Underage passengers putting ride shares at risk

Updated:

BOSTON -- More teens these days are getting where they need to with just a few taps of their phone, thanks to ride share companies, and many parents give them the green light. 

But Boston 25 News reporter Jacqui Heinrich uncovered a little-known policy that could be putting both minors and drivers at risk.

It’s against the rules for ride share companies like Uber and Lyft to transport unaccompanied minors.

Buried in the terms of service, it’s spelled out in the fine print: you must be at least 18 years of age to use the app. On the drivers’ guidelines, a warning to verify the age of riders who look questionable. 

But kids bypass the system all the time.

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Samantha told Boston 25 News all of her friends use ride shares like Uber and Lyft: “Just like, transportation to and from sports games and parties and stuff.”

We watched as she downloaded the Uber app and tried it for herself. 

Samantha took four rides with Uber. Of those drivers, two also worked for Lyft.

Not a single driver asked Samantha’s age before she got in the car.

“When you applied to be a driver did they tell you anything about the rules around transporting minors?” Heinrich asked one driver.  “No, nothing,” he responded.

“It's probably in their terms.  Drivers like me don't bother to look at the terms,” another driver said.  “So you didn't realize?” Henrich asked.  “We don't know, we weren't communicated of that issue.”

Drivers do face liabilities with an unaccompanied minor in the car.  In the case of an accident where the driver violates the terms of service, insurance claims can be denied, pinning the costs on the driver. 

For underage riders, it's a risk to be alone in a car with someone who has not passed state requirements to work around kids, like fingerprinting. 

Boston attorney Phillip Tracy tells Boston 25 News, it comes down to profit. 

“They just want as many riders as they can get and to grow their industry,” Tracy said. “There's going to be a serious accident, people get hurt. The company or the insurance company may say ‘we’re not covering this, because he wasn't supposed to have minors in the car’. A much worse scenario, and the scenario that we have seen, are all the way from sexual assaults, rapes, kidnappings” 

Drivers who talked to Heinrich said they wished Uber and Lyft would spell it out to workers behind the wheel and to riders on the app.

“The fine print defense is a weak defense,” said Tracy.

Lyft tells Boston 25 News they do send periodic reminders to their drivers about the policy, although none of the drivers we talked to said had ever received one.

Lyft did not respond to our questions about what happens with insurance if the policy is violated. 

Uber tells Boston 25 News they carry insurance for all riders, including unaccompanied minors. They did not say if they would be educating drivers on their policy.

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