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This L.A. Mom Does What in Her Spare Time?

Photograph by Getty Images

Unlike living in most major cities in the U.S., living in Los Angeles means owning a vehicle. While we have a subway system that continues to expand in its routes, an extensive (but painfully slow) bus system, and an increasing number of bicycle lanes on our streets, L.A. is a big, sprawling city with businesses in countless destinations. You simply need a car to get around.

Uber and other carpool services have been filling in the gaps for Los Angelenos, but not without a great deal of push back from existing taxi services. On August 4th, the Los Angeles Times published an article stating that several Uber drivers, who were cited for small driving violations at the airport, have criminal convictions ranging from child exploitation to manslaughter. As an aunt of teens who use Uber, recent employee of Uber and a mom, this article took my breath away and filled my head with questions. Do Uber's benefits for families outweigh the risks? How do you keep your teens safe if they are using a carpool service alone or with other teens?

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First and foremost Uber's legal contract with all of its users states the anyone who signs up for the app must be 18 in order to legally use the services. With that said, many parents are still sharing their Uber accounts with their teens and feel safe doing so because the app allows them to see the driver's information and track the trip from beginning to end. Lyft also has, within its terms, an 18 or older stipulations for its riders. However unlike Uber, Lyft's app allows a rider to see photos of the driver before choosing, giving parents more information about who their teens are being driven by.

I recently started driving for Uber, and I'm finding that it's revolutionizing the way teens are transported. Each day on my route I get a request that I soon learn is a young teenaged girl or a group of teenaged boys who have been given power to navigate the city with the touch of their finger. These are the passengers that school me on such important issues as the rap battle between Drake and Meek Mill or where to find the latest clothes on sale. One passenger, a 16-year-old girl, shared that her twin brother was a licensed driver, but he refused to chauffeur her around town. She said she didn't care because to her, Uber was a better choice.

Over the last 30 years, a surprising number of American teens and 20-somethings just don't find getting behind the wheel appealing.

For many, the benefits seem to outweigh the risks. When I was a teen, I was driving as soon as I could. I couldn't wait to get a license and be able to get myself from one place to another without needing a ride or waiting for a bus. My family was supportive because I'd run any errands and give anyone a ride just to get time behind the wheel. I've watched this attitude disappear. For years, most parents I know have devoted hours of every day shlepping their teens from one event to the next—even to school! But over the last 30 years, a surprising number of American teens and 20-somethings just don't find getting behind the wheel appealing. And Uber is helping that change because teens have the control to get around.

Even as an Uber driver, my mom instincts would kick in. The other day I picked up a group of teen boys. They looked to be around 14 or 15 years old. During a brief exchange between them, one of them used curse words, and I felt myself wanting to reprimand or correct him. I refrained, remembering that I was at work and not parenting. When teens get in my vehicle, my natural tendency to nurture surfaces. I know they have a parent somewhere who is happy she doesn't have to taxi her kids around as often as she used to (even if she does need to provide them with a little more spending money.)

All things considered, the benefits to less teens driving are plenty. Parents don't have to incur the cost of high insurance rates, vehicles and maintenance. It's no secret that putting your teens behind the wheel of car is costly and risky. Teen accident rates are staggering, especially since the invention of cell phones. Car services like Uber and Lyft eliminate many of these concerns. Also the environmental impact of possibly having less vehicles on the road and more carpooling can only be a good thing.

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I understand how appealing it must be for a young person to have a ride to his or her destination so easily. But I would also consider the risk involved and urge all parents to be responsible and clear about your teen's methods of transportation. Safety is always key. My higher goal is to be a good mom. And I'd like the moms of these kids to know that this mom is looking out for their safety for the short time they are in my care.

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