Unit 3 – Drunk and disorderly: Dealing with the late night crowd

If you drive for Uber chances are you will have to deal with drunk and disorderly passengers at some point.  Even if you don’t drive the late shift you may find you have drunk passengers at any time of day!  I’ve had passengers so drunk they were passed out in the back of the car and we hadn’t even gotten to the bar yet.  They were drinking that much at their house before heading to the bar.

Keep in mind that passengers may be disorderly for other reasons. They could be angry. They could be suicidal. They could be intoxicated from drug use.  They could even just be sick. There are many reasons for drunk and disorderly passengers.

Before I get into specific tips let’s talk about times to drive.

I know drivers that won’t drive nights because they want to avoid the drunks.  Instead they prefer to drive early in the morning.  They do the “drive of shame” on weekends helping people getting back to their car or home.  They may also do airport runs for the tourists and business people in the early mornings.

Most drivers choose to drive the drunks home.  There may be several reasons for this:

  • Drivers feel they are doing a public service. They help people get home safely after a night partying and they help prevent DUIs.
  • There is typically high demand at bar closing time. People arrive to the bar at all different times of the day but the bar closes and everyone has to leave all at once.
  • Since there is a high demand Uber frequently has surge pricing which pays you much better to drive.

However, you are an independent contractor.  No one says you have to drive late at night.  Many drivers feel safer by NOT driving late.  You can even cancel a ride if you want to.

Drunk passengers and disorderly passengers will commonly try and do a few things:

  • They may try to fit more people in your car than you have seat belts for. (This can get EVERYONE in the car a fine/ticket. Do not let them do this.) Tell them they need to request an UberXL or tell them you can only take 4 passengers and make the extras request another ride.
  • They may try to bring alcohol into the car with them. Again this is not allowed. An open container of alcohol in your car can lead to a DUI even if you aren’t drinking.  At the very least an officer who stops you is going to investigate, your passengers are going to be investigated, and the ride is going to be a disaster.  You can even lose your car insurance just for your passenger having an open container in your vehicle.
  • They may grab items in your car to play with.
  • They may have a hard time telling you their destination.
  • They may try to get out of your car at the wrong times (at a stop light or even while moving.)
  • They may get sick in your car.
  • They may get physically, verbally, or sexually aggressive with you or with other passengers.

I’ve probably forgotten a few things, but these are the most common.

The most common issues with drunks are probably, trying to fit too many people in the car and trying to bring alcohol in your car.

Extra Passengers

It may seem like no big deal to let the college kids bring 5 or 6 passengers. They’ll try and tell you how small they are and how one can sit in another friend’s lap.  However, this is very dangerous.  You’re only supposed to carry as many people as you have seat belts for.  If a passenger is sitting in someone’s lap or laying across their lap they can go flying in case of even a minor accident.  Everyone in the car can receive a ticket and usually the driver’s ticket is the most expensive.  It isn’t worth it to you to take an extra passenger.

Even non-drunk teens and college students frequently try to fit extra passengers in.  They’re trying to avoid the higher cost of ordering an UberXL.  It sets a bad precedent if you let them get away with it. They avoid the higher cost.  UberXL drivers get less requests.  You do not want to let extra passengers in your vehicle. With UberX you only have to accept up to 4 passengers. Any over 4 and you should deny them. They need to order an XL or split into two groups and request another car.

Bringing Alcohol Iinto Your Car

You may not realize your passengers are even trying to bring open containers into your car.  If you can get out of the car to greet passengers, then you have an opportunity to check them out.  If you are in the front seat parallel parked in traffic and don’t have time to get out… at least take a few seconds before you start driving to turn around and look at your passengers.  Check them out and see if they’re bringing an open beer in or whatever.

Sometimes you won’t know. They’ll hide liquor in a water bottle or another container. It may not look like alcohol.

Sometimes they’ll ask you. They’ll want to bring in a case of beer or whatever.  Be careful about this. It is best to have them put it in your trunk.  Otherwise you risk that they decide to open it while sitting in your back seat.

A whole mess of problems can come up if you are pulled over (or in an accident) with open containers in your vehicle. At the very least the police are going to want to investigate to determine whether or not you were drinking and driving.   In some areas you may even get a DUI if you weren’t drinking but just had the open containers in your vehicle.

I’m not an attorney.  Read more about open container violations at NOLO. They give you the legal opinion on open container violations.

General Advice on How to Handle Drunk and Disorderly Passengers

Here is some general advice that can help you with drunk and disorderly passengers.  Not all of these tips will work all the time. You may have to try a few and see what works for you.

First and foremost, keep in mind that you are in control.  You need to assert control over the vehicle as the driver.  If you’re ever uncomfortable, pull off the road to a safe place, end the ride, and let the passenger know the ride is over.  If need be, exit your vehicle.  It’s better for someone to get angry and damage your vehicle than have them get angry and assault you.  If you’re out of the car and they are drunk, they won’t be able to catch you.  You can get to safety and all the police.

Another way to assert control over your vehicle is using automatic door locks.  When driving late at night I keep my doors locked at all times.  It is very common for drunk passengers to try and get into the wrong car.  They know they ordered an Uber and think that you are their driver.  Then they don’t want to get out and you’re stuck with them in the car.  I only unlock my door when I have verified that I have found the correct passenger.  Automatic door locks can also help you keep passengers in the car.  Drunks will sometimes try and get out at the wrong time. They may try and get out right in the lane of traffic.  Using your automatic door locks can keep them safe.

When picking up a passenger, it is best to have them tell you their name.  If you say “are you Bob” they will agree with you even if it isn’t them. They just want to get home.  Or they may not hear you correctly.  You can also use the little photo in the app to try and verify if it is them.  Unfortunately, a lot of the photos are not correct in the app.  Finally you can have them show you their phone app to make sure it is you that they requested a ride from.  I do this before I unlock my door and let them in.  I only roll the window down part-way to be able to speak to them without letting them in the car.

If the passenger is acting up before you pick them up, you can cancel the ride.  If they try to bring too many people into the car, bring a lit cigarette, argue with you, bring an open container, etc. Even if they are just acting out, you can cancel the ride. You are an independent contractor. You don’t have to let them in your vehicle.  Typically, you need a good reason if they report you to Uber otherwise Uber could claim you are a racist or something and deactivate you.

Now that the passengers are in your vehicle, hopefully they are sober enough to give you their address. I’ve had some really awkward situations where they were too drunk to give me an address.  Again, you may stop the ride right here.  Other times you may be willing to help them or a friend or someone can provide an address for you.  Give them a minute to get their bearings.   Give them water if you have it.

As you head to your destination, the most common thing will be for drunks to ramble and talk. Sometimes it isn’t comfortable talk. Sometimes they get sexually aggressive.  Even male drivers can be sexually harassed.  Let them know you are not comfortable with their sexual talk.  Tell them you are married (even if you aren’t.)  If it continues or if they begin to touch you, pull over to the side of the road.  Assert that you are not comfortable with this.  Tell them that if they continue you will cancel the ride and drop them off right here. Usually this will straighten them out.  If not, end the ride and leave them at the curb.  If they won’t get out of the car, again you can get out of your car. It’s better to be physically safe from the potential attacker.  It’s better if they attack your car rather than you.  You have insurance and Uber can even assist in charging the passenger a fee for damage to your vehicle.

Warning About Self-Defense Items

You may want to carry self-defense items in your car.

Uber definitely does not allow firearms of any kind in your vehicle.  Even in a state like Texas where open carry is legal, any passengers will have agreed to the Uber policy which forbids firearms. You do not and should not give them a ride in your vehicle.   This applies to you as the driver and your passengers, both.

Whether you carry pepper spray or other self-defense items is a little bit more of a grey area.  Uber seems to be more willing to allow self-defense items than Lyft. However, you need to use them responsibly.  You will probably be deactivated for using pepper spray while Uber investigates.  Even if you were in the right for using it, Uber will still need to investigate before letting you drive again.

About Passengers Getting Sick or Damage to Your Vehicle

With drunk passengers they can occasionally get sick in your vehicle.  If you think they are going to be sick give them a bottle of water and a vomit/emesis bag. (Emesis is the hospital term for vomit.)  We list a few of our favorite barf bags here.

If a passenger gets sick in your vehicle DO NOT CLEAN IT UP first.

Finish the ride.  Pull over somewhere safe. Turn off driver mode. Then take several photos of the mess before you clean it up.

This doesn’t make sense, so let me say it again, do not clean up the vomit. First, before you clean anything, take several photos of the mess. You need photos to show Uber so that they can reimburse you for the cleanup fee.  If you clean it up first, Uber won’t be able to see as much damage. Depending on the color of your seats/carpet/interior and the lighting it may be difficult to see the damage after you cleaned it up.  Vomit can seep into the carpets and make an awful smell.  Even if it looks like it was cleaned up it could have soaked in below the surface.

Take at least 2 photos of the sickness before you clean it up. I’d suggest taking 4 or 5 photos. Take a wide shot and then an up close. Take a couple extras in case the photos don’t come out well.  Use your flash on your phone. Turn your interior lights on (or park close to a street light.)

Uber can reimburse you from $25 to $200.  However, they won’t reimburse you without photos and the passenger may claim that they didn’t get sick.  Some passengers have tried to claim that drivers faked the vomit.  Having good photos will help ensure you get the money you deserve for the sick passenger.

The same rules apply to damage to your vehicle.  A passenger may pull a handle off or some other small part on your car.  If you see the accident take photos and make sure to note which passenger did it. If you did not see the damage being done you can check your dash cam if you have one. If you don’t have a dash cam it is going to be a lot harder to prove which of your passengers damaged your car.  I’ve heard horror stories like having someone cut a leather seat but not being able to tell which passenger did it.  Take photos of everything to provide to Uber.

If you pay to have a professional clean your car, make sure to make photos of the receipt to provide to Uber.  I have a guy that will come to me and detail the interior including washing the carpets for $99. I get a receipt from him and then I can provide that to Uber.  This helps ensure I get more money from Uber. It doesn’t guarantee that I will get the $99 but it should help ensure you don’t get the minimum $25 from them.  Uber will usually cover $100 for bodily fluid messes.

If someone vomits on the outside of your car, you still want to take photos.  Then you want to get your car cleaned immediately!  The acids in the stomach can eat away at your paint. Uber may still reimburse you for cleaning fees even if it is on the outside of your car. (Typically $25-$50)

Warning: If you don’t take photos Uber will always deny your claim. Even if you take photos they may deny it if the photos are blurry or the mess is not easy to see.  Make sure to take the photos right away before cleaning up!


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