13 Polite Habits Uber Drivers Actually Dislike—and What to Do Instead
Sometimes good intentions go awry, especially when using a rideshare. Here are the common etiquette missteps you should avoid when taking an Uber—straight from drivers themselves.
The dos and don’ts of taking an Uber
Ubers are, well, über convenient—the concept combines the best of public transportation and hiring a private driver—but like any good union, it also requires a lot of compromise on both sides. That starts with an understanding of the polite habits most people dislike.
“I had an Uber driver recently who put a potent air freshener on the air vent in the back by me,” says Nanette Paddock of Boston. “I understand he was just trying to be nice and make the car smell better, but I don’t like artificial smells, and I knew it was going to make the whole ride miserable for me.”
Unsure of the etiquette rules, she at first tried to ignore it, because she didn’t want to bother him or make him feel bad, but several minutes into the ride, she finally spoke up, saying, “Hey, I prefer my air plain. Do you mind if I take this air freshener out?” The driver honored her request but politely told her he would have preferred if she’d spoken up at the beginning of the ride. Despite their best intentions, both rider and driver ended up feeling not-so-great about the experience, she says.
This super-polite exchange highlights a conundrum many rideshare users face these days, says Valerie Sokolosky, an etiquette expert and the author of Do It Right!, a comprehensive etiquette guide. “Drivers and riders, we’re all trying to do our best and be polite, but it doesn’t always come across as we intend,” she says. (Not to mention the fact that we want to maintain good passenger ratings on Uber so drivers accept our booking requests!) Just as there are some “nice” things drivers do that passengers don’t appreciate, there are some “polite” things riders do that get in the way of drivers doing their jobs … or are just plain annoying, she says.
We’ve talked to Uber drivers about whether you should tip your Uber driver (yes!) and the top Uber scams, and now we’re getting the scoop on passengers’ top etiquette mistakes—namely, which “polite” habits actually drive them nuts—and what to do instead.
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Suffering in silence
Paddock’s silence is a prime example of the top “polite” habit that Uber drivers say they don’t like: Not speaking up when something is wrong. (Hint: This is one of the polite habits hotel workers also say they dislike.) “Our success depends on happy riders, and while I try to do everything I can to anticipate what people will want, it helps me a lot if they just tell me at the start of the ride if they need something or if something is bothering them,” says Kelly J., a platinum-level Uber driver in Denver who has been driving for the company since it first launched. “The worst is when people don’t say anything during the ride, when I could have fixed it, and instead complain on the app, give me a bad rating or don’t tip me.”
Do this instead: Politeness doesn’t dictate enduring discomfort, especially not during a service you’re paying for, says Sokolosky. “Share your concern, politely and accurately, as soon as you recognize the problem,” she says. This gives the driver time to remedy it.
Calling or texting us directions to “help” us pick you up faster
Worried that your driver is running late because he or she can’t find where you’re at? You may think it will be helpful to call or text your driver to give them more detailed directions. “Pax [that’s Uber speak for ‘passengers’] can see where we are through the app at any time, and our GPS shows us the best route to get places, so there’s no need to give us that extra info, and we’re already coming as quickly as we can,” says Solomon T., a platinum-level driver in Austin, Texas. In fact, he says that the texts and calls can actually slow down your ride, as rules state that drivers can take calls or respond to texts only while pulled over to the side of the road.
Do this instead: Keep your “pin” (location marker) updated in the app, and then be patient. Instead of calling your driver to ask where he or she is, check the Uber app. “So many problems could be solved by people learning to use the app correctly and being patient,” says Solomon. Patience is one of the top etiquette rules for every situation, adds Sokolosky.
Giving us directions from the backseat
We get it: You know where you’re going, and you want to make the trip easier for your driver. But while you may think that giving directions to the destination will help your driver navigate the ride better, this generally isn’t useful, says Solomon. “GPS is the best these days. It accounts for construction, traffic and other things we can’t see,” he says. “So if I’m taking a different route than you think is the best, please know that the GPS probably knows better.” Sure, if a rider insists he take a particular route, he’ll do it, but it usually makes things less efficient.
Do this instead: Avoid making one of the most common travel mistakes. Instead, sit back and enjoy your ride, allowing your driver to do what he or she does best.
Extending your goodbye
Sometimes you really click with your driver, and the conversation is flowing and fun. It makes sense that, when you get to your destination, you may want to forego a simple thank-you and instead finish up the conversation or chat a bit longer. Isn’t showing interest in service workers the polite thing to do? Not exactly. “We’re paid per ride, so even if I’m enjoying your company, it’s still in my best interest to get you out and on your way ASAP,” says Genevieve S., a gold-level driver in San Francisco. “Sometimes I have people stand on the curb with one foot still inside the car and the door open, just chatting. I appreciate the friendliness, but really, you need to get out now.”
Do this instead: Thank your driver and promptly get out once you’re at your destination. “Service workers are nice to you because it’s part of their job, not because they want to be best friends,” says Sokolosky. Too much chitchat is something grocery store workers dislike too.
Tipping through the app while sitting in the car
Speed is of the essence, and the more rides a driver can do in a specified time period, the more they can get paid. Sometimes Uber even gives out bonuses for completing a certain number of rides during peak times, like holiday travel. “Sometimes customers will sit in the car to close out the ride, rate the driver and tip—some people even like to hold up their phone to me so I can see the tip—and I do always really appreciate tips, but it takes up valuable time,” says Genevieve.
Do this instead: “I appreciate you even more when you close your tab after you get out of the car, not at the curb,” she says. Or follow tipping etiquette and hand cash directly to the driver for the tip, says Sokolosky.
Sitting in the front seat
Insisting on riding shotgun may not seem like a big deal to you—in fact, it will make it easier to strike up a conversation with the driver, give directions and help out in any other way. Plus, sitting in the back may make the driver feel lonely or like they’re just a taxi driver and not a friend, right? “Actually, we are just your driver, and we’re not your friend,” says Kelly. “It drives me nuts when people sit in the front seat. Sometimes people say they do it to ‘keep me company,’ but I’m good, I promise.”
Do this instead: “Most people have a personal bubble, and you should respect that,” says Sokolosky, adding that the front seat is part of the driver’s personal space. Unless there is a specific need (like carsickness or number of passengers), always sit in the backseat.
Not buckling up because you “trust” us
“Some people don’t like to wear seatbelts, and they’ll say, ‘It’s cool, man, we trust you. We’re sure you’re a great driver.’ I appreciate the trust, but it doesn’t matter how great a driver I am if someone else runs a red light or drives drunk,” says Solomon. “It’s my job to get you to your destination safely, and the rules are ‘seatbelts on.'”
Do this instead: Wear your seatbelt for the entire ride—no arguments. “Never ask your driver to break rules for you,” says Sokolosky. “It jeopardizes your safety and their job.”
Confiding too much in us
“I find that people share so much information. I feel like I am a therapist sometimes,” says Kelly. “It is nice that they want to talk, but the things they say are TMI. Maybe they just need to vent, and they think they will never see me again so they might as well get things off their chest, but it makes me uncomfortable.” Being treated like a therapist is also one of the polite habits flight attendants dislike.
Do this instead: Keep your private life private, says Sokolosky. It’s fine to make small talk with the driver (or not), but don’t share intimate details.
Offering to buy us a soda if we take you through a drive-thru
Many drivers have strong feelings about rides that entail multiple stops, especially those to restaurants or grocery stores, and some drivers won’t even accept those trips. The problem is that they don’t get paid to wait for you, and adding stops (especially mid-trip) can make them lose out on future fares. “Sometimes I get riders who know that it’s going to be a pain in my butt, so they’ll offer to buy me a sandwich or a Coke if I add a stop at a restaurant,” says Diego M., a gold-level driver in Washington, D.C. “As a dude who loves a Coke, I appreciate the offer, I really do, but that drink isn’t going to make up for that $100 trip I have next if your stop makes me miss it.”
Do this instead: It’s great that you’ve recognized that adding a stop is causing an inconvenience to the driver, and it’s nice of you to offer a little gift instead of just a halfhearted apology. But the polite thing to do is to avoid adding extra stops to your ride, says Sokolosky. If it’s really urgent, you can ask, but respect the driver’s answer, especially if the answer is “no,” adds Diego. If the driver does agree, add an extra-generous tip rather than buying them food.
Sharing that you’re a current or former Uber driver
It can be fun to bond over a shared job experience, but what you may see as just swapping tales from your side hustle or offering friendly advice can feel like judgment, criticism or favor-seeking from the driver, says Diego. “Lots of these dudes will say it like now we’re buddies and then ask for a favor that, if they were a driver before, they should know not to ask,” he says. “Or they’ll offer me advice, which can be really outdated, depending on when they were driving. I always say ‘thank you’ because I know they think they’re being helpful, but it rarely is.”
Do this instead: It’s fine to say you used to drive a rideshare at one point and offer some empathy, but stop there, says Sokolosky. “Don’t offer people advice unless they ask for it,” she adds.
Asking our opinion about politics
People will sometimes ask their Uber driver to settle an argument or validate their hot takes on controversial subjects, but Genevieve says it’s in the driver’s best interest to stay neutral. “I get that some people like to talk about that stuff and they feel like it’s a compliment to ask my opinion, but I can’t risk getting into an argument or offending a rider,” she says. “This means I just end up nodding and agreeing with whatever you say.”
Do this instead: Feel free to have polite and reasonably quiet conversations about hot topics with your fellow riders (if you know them), but stick to small talk with your driver. And definitely don’t bring the driver into arguments, says Sokolosky. This is a so-called polite habit restaurant workers also dislike.
Getting a little too comfy
“I’ve had people tell me my car is so nice and so comfortable that they just feel at home in it … and then proceed to take their shoes off or brush their teeth or shave,” says Solomon. “It’s nice that they feel comfortable, but I don’t want them to be that comfortable!” In a similar vein, Genevieve says that people will make themselves comfortable by putting their dirty feet (with shoes on or off) on her armrest.
Do this instead: An Uber isn’t your car or home, so don’t treat it like it is, says Sokolosky. Pick up your trash, keep your shoes (and clothes) on and leave personal hygiene routines for the bathroom.
Letting the driver know that someone in your party is running late
If your partner is held up or needs a few more minutes to get ready, you may feel like the polite thing to do is sit in the Uber and give the driver a heads-up that the other passenger is still coming. This lets the driver know you’re running late and gives your partner a little extra time, so it’s a win-win, right? This practice—sitting a person, child or sometimes luggage in the Uber to “hold it” for someone running late—is called anchoring, and all our Uber drivers said they really hate it.
Do this instead: While it is certainly nice to let your driver know if you’re a bit behind schedule (you can do this through the app), if you’re going to be more than a few minutes late, the polite thing to do is cancel the ride so they can move quickly to get another trip. And while it may seem polite to hold the Uber for your friend or partner, that’s only encouraging their habit of lateness, adds Sokolosky. Help them break the bad habit by encouraging them to meet the Uber when it arrives.