CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Would any parent put their young teen in a car with a complete stranger? Of course not. But our investigation found it could be happening often and the person behind the wheel is someone you might not expect.
Many of the teens we questioned, some as young as 14 years of age, say they use the ride sharing service Uber on a regular basis - to visit friends, or go the movies, parties or concerts. Uber's own policy says its drivers should only pick up passengers 18 and over.
Creating an Uber account is no problem. Just use a PayPal or a prepaid credit card gift card. Or borrow your parents credit card, sometimes without their permission.
"I think a lot of parents don't know," says Lakewood High School Senior Class President Hana Shaheen. "It's not like the parents are going to check their phones and see if they have that app."
Uber does automated background checks of all it's drivers using a private company called Checkr, not law enforcement. But Uber is the first to admit that no background check can predict future behavior. Like what's happened recently in several states such as Hawaii, where an Uber driver is charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year old female passenger, and California, where a 37-year old driver is accused of kidnapping and assaulting a teenage girl.
Uber tells us it's up to the drivers to enforce the 18-year-old policy. How well are they doing? We went undercover to put it to the test.
Tamika Robinson-Carter is an Uber driver. She's also a mom. With Tamika's permission, we hooked up her 14-year old daughter Ariane with a credit card, set up an Uber account and started requesting rides.
"Hi, how are you?" driver #1 asks as Ariane enters a red Ford pick-up. Ariane is now a passenger in a car with a total stranger. We were right behind her in our undercover vehicle. Mom and my producer were nearby.
Tamika says her heart was pounding. "It really scared me. Even though we were following her, she's in the car with these people, and have no idea who these people are."
About four minutes into the ride, the driver, a career truck driver, says it's his first day behind the wheel for Uber. Although Ariane tells him she's a high school student, he never asks her age. When he drops her off at the movie theater on Shaker Square, we questioned the driver about Uber's age policy.
"Nobody has told me that," the driver insisted. "Nobody at Uber has ever told you that?" "No." Still in disbelief, the driver asked, "You can't pick up anyone under the age of 18?"
Minutes later, Ariane summoned another Uber ride. Driver #2 has been "Ubering" for a year and a half, but he never asked Ariane her age either. After dropping off Ariane at the Cleveland Heights Library, we asked the driver, "Did you realize you picked up the girl that she was only 14?" "No, I didn't realize," was his reply. The driver said he doesn't usually ask for an ID or age when picking up a passenger, no matter how young they appear.
It was already getting dark and time for one last ride. Driver #3 picked up Ariane at the library. During the 15 minute ride home, he volunteers that he recently picked up students at North Royalton High School. He doesn't ask Ariane her age.
Driver #3 said "they never told me anything about being able to pick up anybody under 18, because I've picked up people at high schools before."
All three drivers were courteous and did not display any inappropriate behavior. Tamika Robinson-Carter is just glad our Uber test was nothing more than a close monitored exercise, to help keep her daughter, and all teens, safe.
"I was so shocked how she was able to get into the car and they were just like, OK… and they just kept on going. That's a scary situation," Robinson-Carter said.
We did talk by phone with an Uber representative about this story. Uber repeated it's position that it's up to the drivers to enforce the policy. Uber declined our request for an on-camera interview.
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