A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

This Is What Your Uber Driver First Notices About You

Your Uber driver notices some pretty personal things about you right away. Here's what you need to know about being a good rider and keeping your rating high.

Man driving with woman sitting in car
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Every Uber rider has a story

Uber drivers are highly observant, and they can size you up in a split second. This isn’t about being judgmental—their observations give them important intel, says Kelly J., a platinum-level Uber driver in Denver. Similar to what waiters and flight attendants first notice about you, Uber drivers are looking for some very specific things, and they use this information to figure out which rides to accept, what to expect and how to better serve you. It can also help keep them and you safe.

That said, as long as customers are following some basic etiquette rules, all that people-watching can also be fascinating. “Every rider has a story, and getting to hear who people are, what they are doing, where they are going and why is my favorite part of the job,” says Kelly, who has been driving for the company since it first started. “And the longer I do this job, the better I get at noticing the little details about my riders.”

We asked Kelly and other Uber drivers to share what they first notice about their customers—and what these observations tell them about you. If you’re a regular Uber rider, you’ll also want to know which seemingly polite habits Uber drivers actually dislike, as well as how much to tip your Uber driver.

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Businessman driving the car
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What neighborhood you’re in

Whether you’re Ubering to the airport, to work or home from a party, the very first thing your driver notices about you is the area of town you’re in for your pickup and the area you want to be dropped off, says Tio M., an Uber driver in New Orleans. Not only does it tell them how much money you might have, but it can also give clues about your age, family situation, culture, job and personality. All these factors can affect the ride, he says.

“It’s a stereotype, but it’s a stereotype that’s usually true: Nicer neighborhoods equal better fares and tips, so yeah, I’m going to pay attention to the location. Bad neighborhoods—you may even be getting set up [to be robbed],” he says, adding that this goes beyond implicit bias. He is hyper aware of this, since three New Orleans Uber drivers were killed while on the job in the first three months of 2023. “There are places where I just won’t accept a ride.”

Note: Uber says that drivers who routinely decline rides from poorer neighborhoods will get hit with a “destination discrimination” notice from Uber, which can lead to them getting fewer rides or even being fired.

Midsection of woman using phone in taxi
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Your passenger rating

Before your driver picks you up, they know just two details about you: your name and your passenger rating. This rating is an average of what other drivers have rated you, as a rider, and you can see your rating under the “privacy” section on your app. How other drivers have rated you really does have an impact on future rides. “If it’s lower than I’d expect—the average is about 4.8—then I will wonder what you did, and I may not accept the ride,” Tio says.

You may have lost points on your rating for smaller infractions, like making your driver wait extra time at the pickup location or trying to add extra stops. Or your rating may have taken a hit for something big, like stealing something from the car, leaving a big mess, trying to run an Uber scam or making the driver feel unsafe. And a bad rating doesn’t mean 3 stars or lower, like on Amazon—any rating under 4.7 will make the driver think twice, and under 4.59 is low enough that Uber may consider banning you from the service. You can dispute a low rating given by an individual driver with Uber, but not your rating overall.

Cheerful lady guiding the taxi driver.
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How chatty you are

“I’m fine chatting or not, depending on what the rider wants,” says Kelly. “And I know for a lot of people, that is a big factor in the comfort of their ride, so I try to pay close attention to their cues of how much talking they want.”

Your chattiness (or lack thereof) can show how introverted or extroverted you are, but it can also clue the driver into your mood, well being, status and energy, she says. What you say will also inadvertently provide other clues about you. One more thing: Speaking too much, or too intimately, is one of the polite habits most people dislike, so keep that in mind!

Woman traveling in a taxi during covid-19 pandemic
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Your physical health

Uber isn’t supposed to be a health service, but many people use it to head to the doctor and even as a low-budget ambulance. “I always look to see if someone seems like they’re sick, injured or otherwise unwell,” says Angela J., an Uber driver in Las Vegas. “One of my biggest worries is getting sick from a passenger, since we’re in enclosed spaces a lot. I’ve had plenty of rides where someone looks feverish and is coughing, and that hits different since COVID.”

Angela adds that she does feel a lot of compassion for people who use Uber to go to the hospital or medical appointments, saying she recently drove a woman to a colon cancer appointment and felt so bad for her that she ended up refunding the fare. “Cancer’s bad enough, but to have to go alone? Where is her family?”

However, some of these are positive experiences, and she’s driven more than one pregnant woman in active labor to the nearest hospital. “I always joke that they have to name the baby after me,” she says. “Angela for a girl, Angelo for a boy.”

Closeup of young woman hand control radio volume
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What music you like

“I don’t mind letting riders use the Aux or Bluetooth in my car to play their music,” says Angela. “I learn so much about people from their music!”

Your taste in music can reveal a lot about your personality, culture, language, age, taste and other tidbits. And it’s not just what you listen to, but how. “The volume, whether or not you argue with other riders (or me!) about songs, how often you skip tracks and if you sing along are all things I notice too,” she says. “I once drove a professional singer who basically gave me a mini karaoke concert. I loved it!”

Contemplative businesswoman looking through window sitting in car
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If you wear your seatbelt

“‘Seatbelts on’ is rule No. 1 in my car,” says Kelly. “And I absolutely will notice if you don’t put it on or if you put it on and then take it off.” She adds that it’s even more important for small kids and babies to have car seats, be strapped in properly and to stay in them.

Whether or not you follow these rules says something about your personal risk tolerance and your parenting style—something Kelly is very sympathetic about. “I’m a nursing mom, and I understand what it’s like to have a little one who just needs your attention for a minute,” she says. “But you still can’t take them out of the car seat while the car is moving.” Not following safety protocols is one of the most common travel mistakes.

Friends singing in the car
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If you’ve been drinking

One of the top reasons people use a ride-share service is so they can drink without worrying about driving under the influence. That shows good judgment and a sense of social responsibility … as long as you’re not so drunk that you puke. “Vomit is the gift that keeps on giving. You lose time and money cleaning it up—even with the extra fee the rider is charged—and the smell lingers forever,” Kelly says. “So if you look like you’re so drunk you will puke, I will decline the ride.”

However, being tipsy is fine. And if you do get to a point where you think you might throw up (for any reason!), just let your driver know ASAP so they can hand you a bag or pull over. Of course, how inebriated you are is one of the things a bartender first notices about you too.

Young couple taking selfie in car during road trip
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Who you’re riding with

Solo riders are the easiest to deal with, say our drivers, especially because Uber doesn’t pay them more for multiple riders as long as everyone is going to the same destination. “The larger the group, the more likely people are going to be loud, leave trash, ask for unscheduled stops and argue about the tip—which means I’m more likely to get tipped badly,” says Tio. (FYI, this is how much you should be tipping Uber drivers and other workers.)

Also, who you’re with says a lot about you and your lifestyle. For instance, a group of business associates traveling to a conference give off a professional vibe, as opposed to a man riding with multiple young women or a herd of college kids who are bar hopping, Tio says. That said, our drivers don’t avoid picking up groups and say most people are polite and well behaved.

Taxi driver talking to a female passenger in car
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What you talk about

Riding with a group? Talking on your phone? Be aware that your driver can likely hear a lot of your conversations. If you’re just talking about family gossip or work meetings, it’s no big deal, but Tio says he’s overheard drug deals, cheating spouses, trade secrets, credit card numbers (spoken into a phone) and other highly personal or sensitive information.

“Am I judging you? Yes, I’m human. But I’m not gonna say anything to anyone—I know to mind my own business,” he says. “But if you don’t want your driver listening in, put on music, keep your voices low and don’t use speakerphone.”

Young woman sitting in her car and having problem
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What you smell like

Perfume or body odor—it all gets magnified in the small confines of a car, making your personal scent one of the first things your driver notices about you (and likely one of the first things you notice about them too). “Any strong scent is going to be really noticeable inside a small car,” says Angela. Your odor not only tells the driver about your hygiene habits; it can also offer clues into what kind of food you’ve eaten recently, if you’re a smoker, if you have pets and what your smell preferences are (say, fruity or musky). Did you know your body odor can also tell you important things about your health?

All the Uber drivers we spoke with said that they prefer people to not spritz on perfume, body mists or other scented products inside the car.

African businessman in taxi, using laptop and mobile phone on the back seat.
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What your job is

Even if you’re not Ubering to your place of employment, your driver may discern your type of work based on your clothing, name badge, baggage and things you talk about. “I shuttle a lot of nurses and doctors, so I get to hear all kinds of medical stuff,” says Lisa P., an Uber driver in New York City. “During the pandemic, this was a real advantage. I still think it’s cool now.”

Does your job really affect your ride, though? “I’ve found that people who also work in service industries, like health care or food service, tip better,” Lisa says. “That said, of the few people who don’t tip, they are usually surgeons.”

Mature Businesswoman travelling in Taxi
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How you breathe

This one may sound strange at first, but close quarters mean you can often hear every sigh, burp, sniffle, swallow, hum and sharp inhale, says Tio. And breathing patterns can tell the driver a lot about you. “I can tell if someone is trying not to cry, if they have allergies, if they’re chewing gum or if they’re feeling anxious or impatient,” he explains. “I always try to match their energy, maybe offer them a tissue or ask if they want to talk about something.”

Modern female tourist giving instructions about location to her Uber driver
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How you give directions

Ride-share apps handle most of the details, including addresses, maps and directions. But that doesn’t stop some folks from trying to do a little backseat driving or offer extra tips. “I don’t mind if riders point out a tricky intersection or an unmarked turnoff I might miss, but please keep the backseat driving to the important things,” says Lisa. “If you do it a lot or if you question my driving skills, I am going to assume you’re a control freak.” If you cross a line, here’s how to apologize.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.