By Zachary D. Campbell, Lawyer at Metzger Wickersham
Can you remember a time when Uber did not exist? Believe it or not, Uber revolutionized the way we travel nearly ten years ago. The days of hailing a taxi cab seem medieval compared to the ease of using a smartphone to order a ride. In fact, it is so easy that many parents even utilize ridesharing to safely travel with children in tow.
In my experience as a father, Uber can be very kid-friendly! But what about car seats? Are they required? Are you allowed to bring your own car seat? These are just some of the various questions that arise with the convenience of ridesharing.
Are children required to use car seats in an Uber or Lyft?
Rideshare drivers are required to comply with local and state laws. There are strict laws in Pennsylvania that require children be securely fastened in either a car seat or booster seat. Uber drivers are not exempt from these laws.
Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to review a case addressing whether it is a crime to put a child in a car for hire that is not equipped with a car seat. In the case of Commonwealth v. Howard, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed in part and confirmed in part a conviction for a mother who placed her three-year-old daughter in the back seat of a car for hire. According to the decision, the child was not placed in a car seat and the vehicle was unfortunately involved in a crash. Additionally, no one in the vehicle was wearing a seat belt as well.
After the crash, the mother was charged with recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children. At the trial, the mother was convicted by a judge on both counts based on her failure to secure her daughter in a car seat. The mother received one year of probation. She then appealed her conviction.
On appeal, the Superior Court upheld the lower court’s conviction of endangering the welfare of children. The Court found there was enough evidence presented that the mother placed her child in the vehicle for hire without any safety restraints. However, the Court found there was insufficient evidence to uphold the conviction of recklessly endangering another person. In reversing that conviction, the Court noted, “This Court is cognizant of the dangers that could result from a parent’s failure to utilize proper child passenger restraints for their children. However, while [the mother’s] actions (or lack thereof) were, as she admits, a serious mistake in judgement, we cannot conclude they rose to the level of criminal recklessness.”
In a concurring opinion, one judge added the following, “Although our research did not uncover any reported Pennsylvania decisions that directly address the precise facts at issue, the increasing popularity of ridesharing services makes it likely that more parents traveling with young children will have to take a hard look at whether to accept a ride from a driver whose vehicle does not contain an appropriate car seat.” It appears parents would be doing themselves a favor in taking the judge’s advice. Although there may be some hassle and extra time involved in bringing a car seat along, the safety of your children should be your number one priority.
As previously stated, the matter of the criminal conviction is not settled yet. In May 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the mother’s appeal and agreed to consider one single issue: “Was the evidence sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt, that [the mother] knowingly endangered the welfare of her daughter when she put her in the backseat of a car for hire without a seat belt or restraint system, and there is no indicia that the driver was driving unsafely?” The answer will hopefully come soon.
Although a final decision has not been made regarding the issue at hand, for the safety of passengers it is best practice to use a car seat while traveling with children in a rideshare. Remember, Uber and Lyft drivers want passengers to feel safe and be secure in their vehicles no matter the passenger’s age. If the rideshare driver does not have a car seat available, bring your own car seat along to use. Don’t forget to leave a review for your rideshare driver if your family has a positive experience – drivers appreciate your feedback.
Whether it’s getting to the airport for family vacation, helping your college student move around campus, or ordering dinner in a pinch – rideshare can be a convenient way for parents, caregivers and families to make it through the day. Educate your family with rideshare safety tips to enjoy a smooth experience with Uber and Lyft!
Stay tuned for the final decision by the Supreme Court!
If you are injured in a rideshare accident, consult with the attorneys at Metzger Wickersham to consider your options. We will answer your questions and provide legal advice during a no-cost case evaluation. Call us at (888)-286-2850 or email us to schedule your free consultation today.
Source: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v Howard, J-A18034-19 (Pa.Super.Ct. Nov. 19, 2019)