Ride-hailing is dangerous for unaccompanied minors. The Chinese internet debates: Is there a fix?

Society & Culture

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing recently conducted a WeChat poll to gauge the public’s thoughts about minors using ride-hailing services alone. The poll ended on March 3 with an aggregation of over 4.2 million votes, with 57 percent of the voters expressing approval. The results (in Chinese) have prompted intense debates on the Chinese internet, where voters on both sides listed their arguments and cited past cases to defend their choices.

For those who voted “Yes, minors can ride Didi cars alone,” their main reasons are:

  1. If minors can ride in taxis alone, then they can sit in ride-hailing cars alone.
  2. Rather than restricting the customers, ride-hailing companies should monitor the drivers more closely.
  3. Since 16-year-olds are allowed to work legally, of course they can ride in Didi cars alone.

For those who voted “No, minors cannot ride Didi cars alone,” their main reasons are:

  1. No amount of safety procedures can completely prevent crimes from happening, especially those that are not premeditated.
  2. Guardians should take on primary responsibility for protecting the safety of minors.
  3. Minors are less cognizant of potential dangers, and therefore should not hail rides alone.

Arguments also touched on issues of female vulnerability in cases of physical and sexual assault, and the complications with legal responsibilities should problems arise.

Meanwhile, internet users presented a number of realistic situations regarding the dilemma, such as limited transportation options for pre-college students attending evening classes and schools in suburban areas, or the heightened dangers of minors traveling at night without ride-hailing services. Many voters have also suggested specific regulatory policies for ride-hailing companies that would better protect minors and more closely supervise the drivers.

The arguments further zero in on the particularities of age, with netizens wondering if these regulations should be applied to minors over the ages of 12, 14, or 16. China’s Civil Law states that citizens over the age of 18 are legal adults with full civil capabilities and subject to all civil laws. Minors over the age of 16 can be legally employed and are considered citizens with full civil capabilities.

Since October 2018, Didi has implemented a procedure that precludes minors from using ride-hailing apps by themselves. The policy requires users to confirm their ages before hailing rides. However, Didi 滴滴 and other similar companies such as Yidao 易到 and Shenzhou 神州still allow parents to hail rides for their children to ride alone, while tracking their routes via mobile devices.

Commenting on the divisive opinions regarding the subject, Lǐ Yì 李易, chief researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ internet research center, argued that the safety comparison between taxis and ride-hailing services is inexact, as it ultimately depends on the social environment at large. Li further suggests that ride-hailing services should look to airline companies and state-run taxi companies to mimic protection programs for minors, as these older companies have established procedures that have been repeatedly tested and refined.