Alarming trend in unaccompanied children using ride-sharing apps

What used to be typical chores for parents now being done by strangers

By Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - Picking kids up after school, dropping them off at the movies or the mall -- what used to be typical chores for mom and dad are now being done by total strangers.

"The youngest passenger that I know for a fact, because of a conversation I started up with this young lady, she was 14 years old," said Brandy, an Uber driver who spoke with KPRC 2 anonymously.

She said she's responded to requests for a ride only to discover the person waiting is a child.

"I didn't think anything of it because I assumed that as long as they had an account, everything was verified."

Uber's policy does not allow minors to ride unaccompanied. But in many cases, Brandy said busy parents were the ones arranging the rides for their kids.

"There are many parents that do rely on Uber for their children, be it for functions, extracurricular activities," Brandy said.

In other cases, the kids made the request themselves.

"Some of the kids are setting up their own apps."

Katy mother Michele Piraneo recently discovered her daughter was riding in an Uber with friends -- no adult present.

"Three girls total in the car. Two 13-year-olds and my daughter had just turned 14. One of her friends had a credit card, so this friend apparently had done it before," Piraneo said.

The teens scheduled several rides with several different drivers.

According to Piraneo, the girls went from Katy Mills Mall to Cypress, and from Cypress back to Katy.

"From there, they went to a friend's house, and from a friend's house they Uber'ed to Whataburger, and I think they Uber'ed back to the friend's house," Piraneo said. "So it was about four or five times within a couple of hours."

So just how did the girls get around the rules? Uber driver Brandy said she knows some drivers are willing to break policy for the cash, something she said she is not willing to do.

"Whether it's someone's livelihood or just extra money on the side, we can't take that risk," Brandy said.

Crime Stoppers Executive Director Rania Mankarious said Uber and Lyft do what they can to stop kids from riding by themselves.

"They're in the car with a stranger. They're by themselves. The platforms themselves say, 'Do not put your minors in our cars,'" Mankarious said.

She tells parents the policies are in place for good reason. If there's an accident, the driver can't make decisions about the child's medical care. And even with driver background checks now mandatory, Mankarious warns the safety of your child is in the hands of a stranger you've never met before.

"Once that child shuts that door, that's it. They're at the full mercy of that driver," Mankarious said. "It's dangerous, and we really, really hope that parents will stop doing it."

For Piraneo, the thought of her daughter riding with strangers still doesn't sit well with her.

"My first thought was he could have driven them to a deserted field," Piraneo said.

Uber said its policy is to disable an account if a driver reports a minor is using the app to book rides. Lyft has similar rules prohibiting minors from riding without an adult.

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