Driver tips: how to handle unruly passengers

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Rideshare passengers, by and large, are pretty cool people. Most are friendly, kind, and curious, and some are fun to be with. Most are more than happy to follow the rules and have good conversations, realizing what a great deal it is to have rideshare available as a means of getting where they need to be.

It’s a good thing rideshare driving goes so smoothly most of the time because when it doesn’t, it can quickly turn your dream gig into a nightmare. There’s no doubt: some people just aren’t very courteous, kind, or nice. They may not know the basic rules of rideshare, but too many blatantly break the rules just because it makes things easy for them.

What can drivers do when passengers don’t follow the rules? In this article, we’ll go through the rules unruly riders love to break. First, we’ll cover what you might want to say to your customer; then, we’ll give you some ideas of what you should say if you want to keep the peace … and your job.

Here’s how we’ll cover this aggravating, but very relevant topic:

  • How important are the rules of rideshare?
  • Rowdy riders and how to handle them
  • Ways to avoid rule breakers
  • How to reduce rule-breaking in your rideshare vehicle

How important are the rules of rideshare?

Not everyone wants to abide by the rules of the world since it can make it hard for us to do what we want, how we want when we want. But as we all know, rules are a necessary aspect of civilization, including the unspoken rules of the driver-passenger relationship in rideshare.

Rules keep riders and drivers safe from danger. Some dangers might be more obvious than others. Wearing a seatbelt to minimize injury, for example, is a rule that benefits everyone, while using someone else’s account as a rider might not seem to do much harm.

Increasingly, drivers are being asked to enforce rules. The COVID-19 pandemic created the need for the Uber mask policy, and a similar one from Lyft, for both passengers and drivers. Social distancing is hard to do in a car, but having a barrier in your car or not allowing passengers to sit in the front seat is a good way to keep some distance and stay safe. While Uber and Lyft help by informing customers of these and other rules, they don’t always follow them.

Some unpleasant things can happen when a rider goes against the rules. The dangers surrounding the COVID rules are clear, but there are more. Would you like to be stopped and cited for driving with unsupervised children, or worse, small children without a proper restraint? What might happen if another car taps your bumper, and the police come only to discover your passenger has an open container of alcohol in the back seat?

Rideshare drivers aren’t responsible for everything riders do or neglect to do, but you can see how insurance claims, lawsuits, and even criminal charges could be a part of a situation stemming from a customer who breaks the rules. So we maintain that the rules of rideshare are reasonably important.

Let’s look at some of them.

Uber rules for passengers include: providing a car seat for children, following laws, for example, not telling drivers to speed, etc.; not touching any of the controls that operate the vehicle; not carrying firearms, drugs, or open containers of alcohol in the car; no street hailing; and of course, no verbal or physical harassment for any reason.

Lyft has all these same policies, as well as another about the number of passengers permitted. A standard Lyft ride means the driver can only be taking three passengers; larger groups have to order an XL. Also, Lyft likes to remind passengers to be mindful of their driver’s time when making multiple stops.

Really, there aren’t that many rules for rideshare, and most make a lot of sense. If you haven’t experienced rider complications yet, unfortunately,  you’ll most likely encounter situations where your passengers attempt to put you, as well as themselves, in jeopardy.

The unruly passengers and how to handle them

Some riders don’t look “rowdy” on the surface, but their behavior can put them into the category of “out of control.” Let’s look at some common scenarios involving rule-breaking riders, what you as a driver might want to say, and then how you can handle the situation better … with grace and professionalism. Here are some examples of unruly passengers and how to handle them:

The parents without a clue – or a car seat

Think about this scenario: a couple along with their two young children, are waiting at their set pickup location. The parents did not bring a car seat for either child. As they pile into your vehicle, you feel anxious about the what-ifs. What if a car hits you from behind and the children are not safely secured? What if you have to slam on your brakes and one of the kids hits their head and starts bleeding? 

What you want to say: “Seriously?? What parents don’t want to protect their kids from getting killed in a car accident? There’s no way I’m taking you in this vehicle. I’m canceling this ride right now, and until you get car seats for your children, I suggest you not even think about calling another driver. Good luck paying for those kids’ physical therapy one day!”

What you should say: “Before you get into the vehicle, I need to remind you that (Uber or Lyft) has a strict rule that states you have to provide car seats for your children. It’s illegal for me to drive with children who are not safely restrained. I’m sorry, but I will have to cancel the ride.”

In most cases, the classy way of saying you’re not going to take this potential catastrophe in your vehicle will work. Sometimes passengers might be rude to you in this type of situation, but if they are, your best bet is to roll up the window and drive away. You’ve just saved those kids, and yourself, from a potential disaster, so the next time you stop, pat yourself on the back.

The intoxicated passenger

While cruising around your local university on a Friday night, you come across your next ride. Three underage students are wobbling to your car. They’re holding big red plastic cups that carry the remnants of one of many alcohol-laden drinks they’ve had that evening. They don’t dump the booze out before getting into the car and act like you don’t see or smell what they’re still drinking – in your back seat.

What you want to say: “Look, I know you need adult supervision, but I’m not it. Dump the booze outside of the car or there’s no ride home for you tonight.”

What you should say: “I realize everybody’s having fun tonight, but riding in my (Uber or Lyft) car is serious business. You can’t have open containers of alcohol in my vehicle. Please either dump your drinks before you get in, or I’ll just cancel the ride and you can finish them before you call another driver.”

Hopefully, a calm, firm tone of voice will take care of this problem. If it doesn’t, refuse the ride, cancel it, and report them and their reckless behavior. You’ll be doing them a favor, even if they don’t see it that way.

The maskless rider

It happens – we all know it. Even though passengers have to take a selfie of themselves wearing a mask before they’re allowed to use the app, some riders will still show up without one. They might be just careless, or they could be inebriated. In either case, they’re breaking an important policy, and you don’t want them to be in your car without a mask.

What you want to say: “Can you tell me what part of the sentence ‘You must wear a mask to ride in this vehicle’ you don’t understand? Do you really think I want to have you sneeze, cough, and drool your disgusting and potentially deadly germs on me?”

What you should say: “I need you to wear a mask to ride in the vehicle with me. If you don’t have one, I can provide one for you, or I can cancel the ride so you can go and get your own mask before you call another driver.”

It really does pay to keep some fresh paper masks in your car for such scenarios. If the person refuses to put it on, you are well within your rights to refuse the ride. Let them know that, and they’ll probably cooperate without too much fuss.

The oversized group

You’ll probably run into this around schools and universities, but young people aren’t the only offenders. Inebriated adults coming out of a bar together or frustrated from being pushed around at a crowded concert or ballgame will say something like: “Come on, can’t you just squeeze in one more?”

What you want to say: “Ohhhhhhh no, cheapskate. You’re not piling into my vehicle just because you’re too much of a tightwad to order two cars for your oversized group. I’m only taking three – that’s the rules of the road.”

What you should say: It’s against the rules, and the law, for me to take more riders than I have seatbelts for in my car. And with COVID, no one can sit in the front seat. I have to keep us all safe. I’m sure there’s another driver in the area who’ll be glad to pick up the rest of your group.”

You can begin by saying, “Sorry” if you want to soften your pitch some, but remain firm and don’t let them bully you. People really do try to do some crazy things when they’re desperate for a ride. It’s up to you to make sure everyone avoids injury, and that your insurance will continue to cover you in case there’s an accident. Breaking a rule like this one could nullify an insurance claim in a nanosecond.

The stolen or mistaken identity

Oh, yes. People do it all the time. While it’s okay for an Uber or Lyft customer to get a ride for a friend, it’s against the rules for them to say “Marsha” is going to be the passenger when “Marvin” is waiting for you at the pickup point. This happens so often, it’s almost the norm. To go by the rules, you should cancel the ride. After all …“Marvin” could be the potential ax murderer that’s been banned by both Uber and Lyft.

What you want to say: “Hellooo?? You’re not Marsha. What makes you think I’m going to take you on this ride? Go back to the person who called for this trip and tell them they’re not supposed to let other people impersonate them or use this service without my knowing who I’m taking in the car. There are ways of doing this, and this is NOT it.”

What you should say: “Are you Marsha? I’m sorry but if you aren’t the owner of the account, and I wasn’t aware that this ride was for someone else, I can’t accept it. I’ll have to cancel this ride, I’m afraid.”

Really, fear is the last thing you should have as a driver, and you shouldn’t be shy about canceling a ride on these grounds. It’s easy enough to get an account with Lyft or Uber. If someone doesn’t have one, there might be some really good reasons … such as, they’ve violated the rules before.

The unsupervised kid

Then there are the parents who think it’s okay for you to drive their kids while they’re not with them. In case you missed this fun fact, it is not allowed. Account-holders must be 18 for both Lyft and Uber. While you’re not responsible for checking IDs as a driver, you wouldn’t want to be accused of any kind of crime because you took younger children without their parents being present. Also, it’s simply against the rules.

What you want to say: “Do I look like your nanny? You can’t ride without a parent or guardian in the car with you. Go back and tell your mommy or daddy that they have to follow the rules just like everybody else. You’re not getting into this car.”

What you should say: Your parents probably didn’t know this, but neither Uber nor Lyft allows drivers to take kids under 18 in the car without a parent being present. I’m sorry, but I’m not able to take you where you need to go.”

The issue of transporting minor children is especially dicey. This can be an insurance issue as well as a legal one – for you. The parents involved should be locked in a room with the others who don’t bring car seats for their little ones.

Ways to avoid rule breakers

Sometimes it’s just not possible to avoid these or other rule-breakers, but you can surely try. For instance, if you’re not good with drunks, you’ll want to avoid the times and places that will draw them out. Or, if you want to avoid big events and big crowds, it’s a good idea to know when and where they’ll be taking place.

How can you know all these things without driving yourself crazy doing it by trial and error? Gridwise has got your back. 

Look for the places where you’ll want to be with Where to Drive, a new feature that’s coming soon from Gridwise. The graphics that come with Where to Drive, give you an easy read on the busiest areas throughout the day.

When you click on the Where to Drive icon on the Home screen, you can expand your options:

You’ll want to know the best times to drive, too. 

Gridwise recently released another new feature called When to Drive. Using information from actual Gridwise drivers, When to Drive gives you pictures of the best times to drive in your area – possibly avoiding some of those characters you’d rather not come across. Here’s a sample:

Gridwise does all this and more. With the “Ultimate Rideshare and Delivery Assistant” you also get: 

  • Airport information: arrivals, departures, and queue lengths at your location;
  • Weather: current information and weather alerts;
  • Traffic: traffic alerts;
  • Gas deals: save up to $0.25 per gallon with Gridwise Gas
  • Event information: everything you need to know about local events.

Gridwise can’t guarantee that knowing where and when you can make the most money will let you totally avoid unruly riders, but increasing your earnings will make it seem a lot less frustrating when you have to deal with them. Download the app now and see for yourself!

How to reduce rule-breaking in your rideshare vehicle

There’s really no way to totally eliminate the hassle of handling people who break the rules, but you can make it happen less often. Here are some suggestions:

Post friendly reminders in your car. Make a sign that has rule reminders on it. Use wording that’s courteous but firm, such as “Keep us all safe – wear a mask,” or “Ride now, party later. Please, no open containers in the car.” Be mindful not to use logos or make the signs look like they came from your company. Uber brand guidelines, as well as those from Lyft, are pretty strict.

Set personal boundaries. Even when riders are nice, you’re not there to make friends with them. Always maintain a professional distance, both physically and socially, from your passengers. Even if it’s not as much fun, it will pay off.

Don’t be afraid to cancel the ride. If you cancel the ride due to a rule being broken, you will still be paid a cancellation fee. The Uber cancellation fee and Lyft cancellation fee are in place to make sure you get some payment simply for going to pick up the passenger. In most cases, you’ll get around $5, particularly if your passenger refuses to wear a mask.

Report bad rider behavior to your company. You can use the words “I’ll have to report you (to either Uber or Lyft) if you don’t wear your mask,” to encourage your rider to do the right thing – but unless you follow up on it, you could get into trouble. Passengers are quick to report drivers, and they are not above concocting stories that make them look good and you look not-so-good. That’s why it’s key to report riders who break rules, so your company gets your side of the story. Most of the time, you’ll probably come out looking like the good egg you are.

Check these Gridwise blog posts for more details on contacting driver support for Uber and Lyft.

We hope this post helps you deal with problematic passengers, and also shows you that you’re not alone. If you have some stories for us, or you’d like to share ideas with the driver community, leave a comment below. Better yet, join us on Facebook for solid discussions and driver-oriented fun.  

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