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Is Uber Safe For Seniors?

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hand holding smartphone in a carWhen my dad reached age 97, my sister and I made a mutual decision that he should stop driving. Even though he only drove within about a five-mile radius, his reflexes had slowed down and he often drove well under the minimum speed limit. Surrendering his keys meant he would have to rely on other transportation if I wasn’t available, so we looked into taxis and rideshare options like Uber and Lyft.

One of the first things we investigated was is Uber safe for seniors? In general, Uber is as safe as taking a taxi. The rideshare company does several types of screenings before clearing someone to drive for them. These include driving history, criminal background checks, and motor vehicle checks. Also, GPS tracks the ride and the app has a 911 emergency call button.

How Safe Is Ridesharing?

Some people have safety concerns with ridesharing. Because the drivers are “regular” people who use their own vehicles while transporting others, there is fear that these services might be dangerous for customers.

Rest assured, all of the major ridesharing companies have plenty of requirements that drivers must meet.

Uber requires:

  • The car to pass a vehicle inspection before the driver is hired. The car must also pass annual inspections after that.
  • Drivers to pass criminal background checks before they are allowed to drive for the company. These background checks are also rerun annually.
    • Driver screenings include researching for moving violations, felonies, violent crimes, and drinking- and drug-related offenses. If the driver is hired, Uber receives ongoing notifications if the person receives a DUI or if they are charged with a crime in the future.

Additionally, Uber has updated the safety features in their app to include:

  • Car and driver verification which allows a senior passenger (actually, any passenger) to know the color and type of car that will pick them up. Also, they can see a picture of the driver so they can be sure they are getting in the correct car.
  • GPS is used to track the car. Additionally, the route is stored, which makes a driver accountable if there is a problem or complaint during or after the trip.
  • Share My Trip – the senior rider can share the route the Uber driver is taking with their family or friends. Their loved ones will know the vehicle information and the driver’s first name, plus they will see the route the car is taking in real time on a map.
  • Insurance protection covers every ride.
  • An emergency button on the app that connects the user directly to 911.
  • For privacy, the rider’s cell phone number is never available to the driver (and vice-versa).

As with anything, there is always the potential for danger when you use a rideshare service, but in general, taking Uber is as safe for a senior as taking a taxi would be.

And, Uber is definitely safer than using public transportation because the car comes directly to the person. There is no waiting on a bus stop corner or sidewalk, exposed to the weather and potential crime.

Reasons For Needing To Use Uber

“By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older.” United States Census Bureau (2018)

As the Baby Boomers age, they will likely face having to give up driving at some point:

This means they will be isolated and dependent on family or friends to do things like take them shopping or to medical visits. Having transportation is important – without it, their quality of life is affected.

This is where ridesharing services can be a great option.

There are countless reasons for needing to use a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft. For seniors, that might include things like:

  • Trips to the doctor
  • Meeting friends or family at a restaurant
  • Grocery shopping
  • Staying active through social functions or outings, such as visiting museums and parks, playing Bingo, etc.
  • Attending places of worship (going to church, synagogue, mosque, etc.)

Rideshare services are perfect for seniors who don’t live near family or who live in a town that doesn’t have much public transportation. Uber and Lyft-type services allow the person to stay independent longer. Plus they free up family members from having to take time off work or time away from their own errands to take the senior somewhere.

Uber For Seniors Without Smartphones (Can You Uber Without The App?)

woman holding cell phoneThe good news is that there are a couple of ways that can help Grandma take Uber even if she doesn’t have a smartphone:

  • You can arrange the ride for her
  • She can use a provider to arrange it herself
  • You (or she) can book online through a desktop web browser

You Can Arrange The Ride For Her

To do so:

  • Download the Uber app and sign up (it’s free)
  • Enter Grandma’s contact info into the app’s address book (contact list)
  • When ordering the ride, enter the address where Grandma should be picked up into your Uber app
  • Select “someone else,” then select your loved one from your list of contacts
  • Enter her destination address and confirm it
  • Request the ride
  • Grandma will get a text with the driver’s name and photo, the car’s description and license plate number, and the time until the driver will pick her up. She can even contact the driver herself if she needs to.

She Can Use A Provider To Arrange It Herself

GoGoGrandparent is an intermediary service that “orders licensed and authorized Transportation Network Companies on your behalf as your representative so you can seamlessly access and use…the services your grandkids are using.

To use GoGoGrandparent, Grandma just needs to call from a landline or flip phone. Of course, having a cell phone is recommended so a senior can always be reached, but it isn’t necessary.

So why wouldn’t Grandma just call a ridesharing service on her own? Because she needs a smartphone to do so and many elderly people either don’t have one or are confused by using an app. Also, many seniors aren’t comfortable using a smartphone for more than talking on the phone.

Another nice feature of GoGoGrandparent is that they take down the rider’s preferences (for example: the need for a car with a trunk that will fit a wheelchair or walker). So, in this example, when Grandma calls for a ride, GoGoGrandparent will automatically arrange for a car with a big trunk (or maybe a driver that is comfortable helping someone with visual impairments in a different scenario, etc.).

hands typing on computer keyboardYou (Or She) Can Book Online Through A Desktop Web Browser

She (or you) can also request an Uber ride through a desktop if she doesn’t have a smartphone. She’ll need to set up an account in order to book a driver. To do this, she has to access Uber’s mobile website by typing m.uber.com into her web browser’s URL bar. This takes her to the desktop version of the smartphone app.

To schedule a ride, Grandma logs into her account and requests the type of car she wants to ride in (for example: UberX is a regular car, UberSelect or UberBlack are higher end cars). After filling in the pickup location and the destination, she can request a fare quote.

If she agrees to the fare, she selects the payment method and clicks the Request button. As with all Uber rides, she’ll get the driver’s name and picture, plus the vehicle information (make, model, color, license plate number).

*Tip: Grandma needs to schedule the return trip in advance first – before completing the request for the outbound trip. This is because when Uber says the driver will be there to pick her up in three minutes, they really mean it. There probably won’t be enough time to for her to schedule the return trip before the driver gets to her.

Does Uber Have Wheelchair Service?

Yes – although it’s currently limited to just a few cities, Uber does offer this service which is a big benefit for people who use wheelchairs or motorized scooters.

As of the end of 2018, Uber was testing a program that provides wheelchair service in certain cities via their WAV program. Right now, WAV is only available in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., however the company hopes to expand the service in the future.

Drivers who provide these services must be certified by a third party. This means they can safely drive and assist seniors or those with disabilities that require the use of these types of mobility aids.

Traveling companions can ride along with the senior in a WAV vehicle. Service animals are also allowed to ride with the person.

Car Aids For The Elderly Who Take Uber

Speaking of wheelchair and scooter service makes me think of the difficulty many seniors face when driving or riding in a car.

In her later years, my mom always had trouble getting in and out of cars. This was because:

  • Automobile seats are often lower to the ground, so leverage can be a problem if you have weak legs or mobility issues like my mom did.
  • Twisting or rotating the body to face forward after sitting down can be tough to do. Getting out of the car means the same issues, but in reverse.
  • Lifting the legs into or out of the car is problematic for lots of seniors.
  • Unbuckling seat belts is often difficult for those with weak or arthritic fingers.

Although your senior loved one may have aids to help them in their own cars, what about if they take Uber? Chances are that Uber drivers won’t have mobility devices in their cars, so it could be helpful for a senior rider to bring along an easily portable aid if they use a ridesharing service.

Leverage Aid

The Stander HandyBar Car Assist Cane Handle (link to Amazon) inserts into the door striker or latch of most cars. It has a non-slip grip handle that helps the senior get more leverage, making it easier to stand up or sit down onto a vehicle’s seat more safely.

The HandyBar supports up to 350 pounds but weighs only 12 ounces, making it light enough for the rider to carry with them when using Uber.

For added safety, the HandyBar comes with a seat belt cutter and can be used to break a window in an emergency.

One potential drawback to the HandyBar is that the user has to remember to take it out of the latch before they shut the door. This could be a problem if they are distracted by gathering up coats, purses, etc.

Rotation Aid

Swivel seat cushions are the way to go if a senior has trouble getting into or out of a car. They just place the cushion on the car’s seat, sit down on the cushion, then swing their legs into the car.

Swivel seat cushions can support up to about 300 pounds, but only weigh about 2 pounds so they are easily portable.

There are a couple of drawbacks for senior Uber riders who want to use a swivel cushion, though:

  • That they would need to remember to take the cushion with them when they reach their destination.
  • The user would have to lug it around with them wherever they went.
  • Swivel seat cushions likely won’t work well in vehicles with bucket seats (they are too big for the seat).
  • It can be difficult to swivel on a fabric/cloth car seat because it sinks into the seat when you sit on it.
  • Some swivel cushions are very hard, making them uncomfortable on a longer car ride.

A silly sounding, but much more portable idea to try is for the senior to bring either a plastic garbage bag or a length of silk-type fabric with them when they ride in a car. They spread it out across the seat of the car, sit down, then swivel around on the slick material until both legs are inside the car. It works in reverse when they want to get out.

I did this when I had a double mastectomy for breast cancer and couldn’t use my arms or chest muscles to get off a couch, car seat, or out of bed. Because the product is smooth and moves easily, it was a breeze to slide across it and get up without much effort.

Leg Lifting Aid

A leg lifter strap (link to Amazon) can be very helpful for a senior’s getting weak or injured leg into a car.

These straps have a hand loop at one end and a loop for your foot at the other. In between is a rigid aluminum rod that helps the user position it over their foot without having to bend over.

Different companies carry them in lengths from about 32” for shorter adults to 40′ for taller people. The aluminum rod gives the user more stability than if they just used a regular strap.

The drawback to a leg lifter strap for an Uber rider is that it doesn’t collapse down to fit into a purse or jacket pocket. This means the senior has to carry it around with them until they get home.

Easy Seatbelt Unbuckling

Although they are marketing more for helping parents and grandparents unbuckle child car seat buckle, products like the UnbuckleMe are great for seniors.

One of the hardest things for my parents to do was unbuckle their seat belts when they reached their destination. Mom had arthritic fingers that were painfully gnarled. Dad simply lacked the finger strength to undo a seat belt on the first try.

It takes about 9 pounds of pressure to unbuckle a seat belt. The UnbuckleMe reduces the amount of needed pressure by about 50 percent. The senior just has to slide it around the buckle, then put the peg over the buckle’s button and squeeze to open it.

A nice advantage is that it’s about the size of your palm so it’s easy to slip into a pocket or purse.

Alternatives to Uber and Ride Sharing

My former mother-in-law lives in a small town. We’ve discussed her using a ridesharing option, but she doesn’t see well and doing something unfamiliar can be scary. Still she needs to get food and get to the doctor and her daughter isn’t always available to take her.

In instances like this, there are other alternatives to Uber, such as:

  • Grocery delivery services – many supermarket chains now offer grocery delivery. The senior places their grocery order online and chooses a timeslot for delivery. If they don’t have access to a computer, you can place the order for them.
  • Senior center outreach programs – many senior centers offer transportation to and from their center, plus shopping trips, classes, and activities. Find one near you.
  • Volunteer transportation programs – some cities have volunteer programs for transportation services. Start by looking at this map of providers from National Center for Mobility Management.
  • Taxis – while usually more costly than ridesharing, taxi services are easy for seniors to access. They don’t need a cell phone or internet connection and most companies will give a quote for the cost of the trip over the phone.

Related Questions

Can I order an Uber in advance for someone else? Probably. Uber already allows you to request a ride for someone else as long as the rider is listed in your app. Additionally, you may be able to schedule an Uber pickup in advance, although this feature is not available in all areas.

Can I pay cash for Uber? Probably not. Uber’s website says, “Uber is designed to be an entirely cashless experience in most cities.” It does not specifically name any cities in which you might be able to use cash.

Does Uber Give A Senior Discounts? As of January, 2019, Uber only offers senior discounts to riders in the Philippines.


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