Uber will start letting kids as young as 13 ride solo. Here's what parents need to know.

Experts weigh in on the ride-sharing app's new "teen rides" policy.

Uber will start offering solo teen rides. (Photo: Getty)
Uber will start offering solo teen rides. (Photo: Getty)

Uber has long provided a fast and easy way for adults catch a ride from one place to another, but the service has been restricted to people aged 18 and up. That's about to change.

Uber announced Wednesday that the company will allow "teen rides" for kids as young as 13, starting on Monday, May 22, in select cities in the U.S. and Canada. The program gives kids the "freedom to request their own rides," Uber says online, noting that parents will be notified every time they do. (The company is also expanding Uber Eats, the service that brings takeout to your door, to teen accounts as well.)

The trips are "destination locked," meaning the driver can't change where they're going once the child is picked up.

Teens will only be matched with highly rated and experienced drivers, the company says, noting that drivers have to undergo a "thorough background check" and are re-screened annually. Drivers can also opt out of the service if they don't want to drive teens alone.

Once a child hails an Uber, parents can track their trips in real time and contact drivers directly. The rides will have additional safety measures like a PIN verification system and an audio recording option. The teen account is part of a family Uber account, although their account will be converted into a standard account when they turn 18. (Worth noting: Fellow ride-share services Lyft and Hitch still require passengers to be 18 years old to ride alone.)

Uber has framed this service as a way to help parents get kids to activities or sports practices when they're otherwise tied up, but early commentary on social media has been largely critical. Uber did not respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment.

Pediatric experts are a little wary of the new Uber service. "From a practical standpoint, it's great for the parent or caretaker who is so busy they can't take their child to practice," Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. "On the other hand, you're now having your child participating in a whole separate business venture and you're not there with them."

Stephanie Strumberger, licensed clinical counselor at Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital and mom to a 13-year-old, tells Yahoo Life that the news is "concerning."

"There is a concern that Uber could be misused by a child and used without the knowledge of their parent," she says. (While Uber says parents will receive alerts when their child books a ride, it's possible that a parent may miss that alert and remain unaware.) "In the state of Illinois, children that are 13 are not even old enough to stay home alone," Strumberger points out.

Fisher notes that elements like being able to track a child's ride, the possibility of a child having their own phone and Uber's driver background checks make this "probably a pretty reliable service." But she also says "it's understandable that some parents will be concerned and nervous."

A lot also depends on the child, Fisher says. "If you're interested in trying this service, ask your child if they feel ready," she says. "A lot of kids might be ready for this and some might be nervous. The most important thing is that the teen is ready for this and wants to do it. If it's going to freak out your kid, don't do it."

Strumberger says it would also be helpful for parents or caregivers to talk to someone at the child's destination, so that there is communication and tracking before, during and after the ride.

Fisher also recommends telling kids to trust their gut. "Tell them 'if this driver arrives and you don't feel comfortable, you can decline the ride,'" she says. "Safety conversations are very important for children."

If the idea of sending a teen in an Uber ride alone doesn't sit with a parent, Fisher points out that they can just not use the service. "Ultimately, it will come down to what parents think is best for their family," she says.

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