Phones & RideHail?

Is it rude to the driver if I make a phone call during an Uber trip? What’s the etiquette here?

This is a passenger in a vehicle holding a smartphone. She looks angry.
image source: Boogich/Getty. Mashable (2018)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: When I take a ride hail trip in an Uber or Lyft do I have to make small talk to the driver? And, do you think it’s OK to pull out my phone and make a call to someone? I was in a vehicle last night with a friend, and they said it was rude to then call to a friend we had in common. Mike, Mill Valley.

Dear Mike: In the early days of Uber and it was almost required that you sat up front and exchanged conversation with the driver. Ride hailing trips were unlike a taxi with the plexiglass divide, and more like riding in someone’s personal vehicle. Here in 2020 we are still riding in someone’s personal vehicle, but the business model has become far more, well, business like.

Still, we all better off if we try to approach the driver with a conversational ice-breaker. A really nice piece by Anthony Ponce, a journalist turned driver, observes that when it comes to getting around town we’re living in a Goldilocks Zone. Taxis are on the decline and driverless cars are still at least a few years away. He says that leaves us in a unique window in history where we travel with others in the most natural places for conversation: personal cars.

OUtside YOur Phone..people

Talking on your phone in the ride hail vehicles reminds me of irritating customers who talk in a grocery store as a poor clerk, probably part time and underpaid, rings up the order and packs the bags. The caller on the phone is oblivious to the person in front of them who is providing a service.

On a different note, there is some evidence that a passenger talking on a phone will distract a driver, as the driver cannot avoid cognitively ‘tuning in’ to the conversation. I won’t go there and say that you should never talk on your phone during the trip, but consider texting instead. 

Share the journey…silently

There is one instance that riders overlook, and an opportunity to stay in touch with a third party outside the vehicle. Use the ‘safety toolkit’ in the Uber (or Lyft) app to send a bread-crumb trail of your journey, so your trusted contact will know exactly where you are en-route and when you will arrive. 

Older People And New Cars?

Mom and Dad are getting older. Do they need a safer car?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: We were at an auto show this week. When I asked my Mom if she planned to get a new car she said she felt safer in the one she drives today. My Mom is over 70 and the car is at least twelve years old. My dad is even older and doesn’t understand why there are big control panels in today’s cars. He asked if the passengers watch TV!  Is there something I can do to help them? Jerome,Tiburon

Dear Jerome: If your parents are safe drivers, i.e., there are no dents to the car, no near-misses, and they don’t travel too far, there may not be a lot to be done.  Perhaps your folks perceive that new cars are too expensive, and stay parked (not in use) most of the day.

Sometimes seniors don’t know about alternatives. I volunteer and teach classes on using phones to hail Uber or Lyft. Students get excited when they learn the app and begin to see an alternative way to travel.

But, since you went to the auto show together, what are some immediate steps you can take? If they are using a stand-alone GPS, suggest they try a newer technology, like WAZE navigation on their phone. Dad might then see the usefulness for the TV sized display.

Real Resistance…

Their resistance to new technology is natural and in transportation it has real consequences. As we age, it takes our brains more time to process information, decide how to handle it and take action. Each step takes longer, and possibly so long that it becomes dangerous. Until they get comfortable and experienced, a new device might slow down or impair their road faculties. 

Here are two site on older drivers you may want to investigate: and

Add Good Tech

In the meantime, consider taking your parent’s older car in for a safety check and an upgrade installed on newer models. Blind spot detection is a valuable unobtrusive technology. A warning light sensor flashes in the side mirror when there is a vehicle is in the blind spot, when it is not safe to change lanes, or when a bicycle or pedestrian is nearby.  Pick a top-of-the line sensor that is highly reliable and have it installed by a reputable shop, preferably the dealer. 

These three steps: learning about ride share options, using navigation on the phone, and  installing an aftermarket blind spot sensor may introduce your parents to new ideas, safer transportation, and keep them more mobile. 

Privacy & Teen Drivers

Data logger could expose teen’s bad driving behavior…or coach her to driver safer. What about her data privacy?

Data loggers capture the speed at which a vehicle travels and more. This shows the setup between hardware, car, and computer.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: A reader asked about installing a data logger to lower car insurance rates. I looked into it and like the idea but am worried about my teen. (read: Telematics and Teens). My daughter is not a good driver. She has had several near-misses and was once pulled over with friends for a DUI (she was not the driver). But, she is only 16. I worry that if we get this data-logger her bad driving behavior will be permanent on her record. Tony, Cambridge

Dear Tony: This is indeed a dilemma. Loggers are good things because they can coach road users to drive safely: they record events like excess speeding, stop sign violations, and jerky stops and starts. They can also ‘gamify’ driving and be a fun way to help your daughter become a better driver.

On the other hand, the privacy issues you raise are real. One state, California, has initiated a massive consumer privacy rights bill for 2020. In the past, it was illegal to sell information for children 12 and under without explicit consent. Now the age increases to 16. In principle and in most states, you can opt out of the data collection when you download an app. Do data loggers count? By definition, they record data!

Reputation- Digital

What are the reputation repercussions if your daughter is pulled over for a DUI, or a random check finds that she is underage and smoking marijuana? I really don’t know. We are supposed to protect our kids online. Teens are vulnerable when they engage in risky behaviors, and they cannot anticipate that their digital record could follow them permanently. 

2020 is said to be the year of privacy, and we can hope that issues like this get sorted out. However, Facebook has said that it does not need to make changes to its web-tracking services to comply with the new California legislation. Likewise, what happens if the data-logging firm that reports your daughter’s driving behavior is sold, or their privacy policy changes?

Protection First

These are challenging issues to sort out. As a parent, you must protect your daughter’s (digital) reputation.  So, begin at home – well actually in the car. Your daughter is at risk as a driver. Either take back the keys or begin anew with one-on-one driver training.