This firm represents a significant number of Uber and Lyft drivers who have been involved in accidents. I am also proud that my clients often come back to me when they have general legal questions that may or may not involve car accidents.Recently, some Uber drivers have been wondering whether they are responsible for ensuring that their younger passengers sit in car seats. I have three year old twin boys – so child-seat safety is a topic near and dear to my heart - as car accidents are one of the top causes of death for children in the United States.First, a quick review of Florida’s car seat law: Fla. Stat. 316.613:Every operator of a motor vehicle [uber drivers certainly meet this definition], while transporting a child in a motor vehicle….if the child is 5 years of age or younger, must provide for protection of the child by properly using a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device.So this begs the question:
The answer is mostly likely "no." I’ll explain in detail why below. But, I would argue that Lyft and Uber drivers might still want to transport minors with caution.I called a Florida Highway Patrol officer friend of mine to ask what he would do if he was called to the scene of a car accident involving a child. He indicated that if the child was not with a supervising adult, he would do everything in his power under the law to “give the uber driver hell.” Meaning, even if there were no injuries, the Uber driver would get no breaks, no warnings, and every possible citation would be thrown at the Uber driver who transported a child without a car seat…. “because the next time the accident might be more severe and a child’s life is needlessly being put at risk.” If there was a parent in the Uber vehicle who failed to bring the proper car restraining device, obviously they would be appropriately cited as well.
The law that applies to Uber drivers is not always the same as what is applied to ordinary car drivers. Again, referencing Fla. Stat. 316.613 – for children 0-3 years old, a separate carrier or vehicle integrated child car seat must be utilized. When the child is 4-5 years old (just prior to their 6th birthday), a car seat or booster seat may be used. The only exception to this law is if the child is being rushed to the ER, has a documented medical condition that prevents them from utilizing a car seat, or is being transported (for free) by a non-immediate family member.Drivers who violate this law are subject to an assessment of 3 points on their drivers license and a fine. But, this verbiage assumes that it’s the parent whose driving their young child around. But, what if a parent calls an Uber and brings their 5 year old child?Uber and Lyft drivers take note, Fla. Stat. 316.613, Section 6, indicates that the aforementioned requirements do not apply to vehicles whose operator is hired to transport people for compensation (taxi drivers are specifically named, and it would appear to include Lyft drivers and Uber drivers, even though transportation network company / rideshare drivers are not specifically named in the statutory exception) because it would be argued they fall under the "other passenger vehicle if the operator and the motor vehicle are hired and used for the transportation of persons for compensation" category. Also, the statute specifically says: It is the obligation and responsibility of the parent, guardian or other person responsible for a child’s welfare….to comply with the requirements of this section.However, I think Uber is opening themselves up to liability when their drivers accept requests from minors. Uber has a policy that a rider must be at least 18 years old to request an Uber ride. Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. While it can be hard to tell if a 16 or 17 year old is under the age of 18 upon first glance….Uber and Lyft drivers certainly should not be driving children under the age of 6 around without an adult - barring an emergency situation.Hopefully, this will be much ado about nothing as, in various cities, Uber is rolling out its Uber car seat program for people who want an UberX that comes to them with a car seat already equipped (for a $10.00 surcharge). I know it is available through its Uber Family car seat program in Orlando, FL, but I haven’t seen it pop up on my Uber app in South Florida (Miami or Ft. Lauderdale at least) as of the writing of this article.
While we have spent time discussing what following the bare minimum of what the law requires, I would suggest to my Uber and Lyft driver friends that they may want to go above and beyond when child safety is at issue. Again, car accidents are a top cause of death for children in Florida and the USA. So, for your information and education:The American Academy of Pediatrics (ACP) recommends that children in automobiles be restrained in a car seat or booster seat until they reach a height of 4’, 9. The average American child reaches this height between the ages of eight and twelve years old. This is partially because, without the extra protection provided by a car seat or booster seat, seat belts crossing over a child’s stomach can result in significant internal organ damage in a car collision. The risk of injury goes down by approximately 45% when you compare using a booster seat with using only a regular seat belt for children who fall in the height and weight standards given here.0-35 Pounds (Seat Should Face Backwards)The ACP recommends child car seats remain rear facing until the child weighs over 35 pounds. This typically occurs at around age two (guidelines may vary slightly depending on the car seat product – check with the car seat manual for specific guidelines). According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV), absolutely no child should be in a car seat facing forward until they weigh a minimum of 20 pounds and are at least one-year old.35–55 Pounds (Seat Can Face Forwards)The ACP says that the car seat should still have a double shoulder harness until child reaches the upper weight and height limit as indicated by the car-seat manufacturer (usually between 40 and 60 pounds).Until Child Reaches Height of Four Feet, Nine InchesChild should use a booster seat, which must be secured according to the manufacturer’s instruction manual (very important as the safety-enhancing features can be diminished if used incorrectly). Most children reach a height of 4’, 9 between the ages of 8 and 12 years. The FHSMV reminds us that these booster seats should only be used in the back seat of a car.After growing out of the booster seat, the FHSMV also reminds us that children are still safest in the back seat and must wear seat belts. Only after age 13 should children be permitted to ride up front.As a Lyft and Uber car accident lawyer, we see too many injuries to children that could have been avoided. Certainly, there are many times when my injured clients (whether they be a rideshare driver or rider) could not have done anything to avoid a collision.However, even if the accident itself is unavoidable, why not take every precaution to minimize the resulting injuries?Drive safely.