Teenagers have a new way to get around the Houston area – by setting up their own Uber rides.
The technology company unveiled a new feature Monday in Houston and several other major cities in the United States that allows teens to secure ride-hailing services for themselves once their account is set up by a parent or guardian. Uber rides have historically been limited to adults aged 18 and older.
Uber bills the new teen accounts, which are for riders between the ages of 13 and 17, as being able to help meet the transportation needs of busy families while offering safeguards and centralized payment. Parents link their children's accounts to theirs, receive notifications when their teen requests a ride through the Uber app and can track the trip as it progresses, among other safety features, with teen users also having the option to document their rides with audio recordings, according to Uber.
Among the other cities where teen accounts launched Monday are Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Phoenix and San Antonio. Uber says on its website that teen accounts will soon be expanded to additional cities and are generally eligible for rides within the broader metropolitan area for each city where the service is active.
Only drivers who are "experienced and highly-rated" will be able to accept teenagers' rides, according to Uber, while every driver on the platform can opt out of taking trips with teens. Uber will allow the teen requesting the ride to bring other teens with them as long those other riders are at least 13 years old and have permission from a parent or legal guardian, the company says on its website.
Uber says it screens drivers by doing background checks for criminal offenses and motor vehicle records, and re-screens them annually in most cities where the ride-hailing service is available. Still, according to the latest U.S. Safety Report released by the company, which covers 2019 and 2020, there were a total of 3,824 reported incidents of sexual assault or misconduct associated with Uber rides during that time span, with drivers being the accused parties in 56 percent of those instances.
Uber trips in the U.S. were involved in 91 crashes during 2019 and 2020, resulting in a total of 101 fatalities, according to the safety report. Twenty other people, including 15 riders, died as a result of physical assaults associated with rides on Uber, which made a total of 2.1 billion trips throughout the country during 2019 and 2020.
In order to create Uber accounts for their teenage children, existing users of the app must create family profiles and invite their teens to join by selecting their names from their list of contacts. The teens will then receive invites in the form of text messages and must complete mandatory safety onboarding before requesting their first rides. Parents or guardians also should ensure their payment information is updated.
Uber says safety features such as PIN verification and "RideCheck," which notifies both drivers and passengers if a vehicle goes off course during a trip or makes an unusually long stop, will automatically be activated on teen accounts and cannot be turned off. Parents and guardians also can contact their teenagers' driver or Uber's support staff during the trip, according to the company.
The new teen accounts will soon be available on the Uber Eats platform, which is a food delivery service, the company announced last week.