Car Seats and Rideshare Services: The Need for Improved Safety Laws
June 16, 2021
Parents want to ensure the safety of their children whenever they are passengers in their vehicles by using appropriate car seats or booster seats based on their child’s age, weight, and height. Every state has laws regarding child safety restraints for young children while riding in a motor vehicle. But what happens when parents of young children travel and utilize rideshare services during their trip?
In a previous post, I discussed the law around child safety restraints on airplanes. But what about after you arrive at your destination? Rideshares, like Uber and Lyft, are an attractive way to get from the airport to a hotel or other destination. Unfortunately, the requirements around using child safety restraints in rideshares vary by state and are often vague. A recent study found that among parents of children 8 and younger that use rideshare services, more than 40 percent used only a seat belt for their child, while 10 percent traveled with their child on their lap or completely unrestrained. In some online family travel groups, misinformed individuals often advocate using a rideshare because parents can simply place a child on their lap and go, often making it seem like a safe option.
Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury and death for children. And of the children 12 years old and younger who died in a crash in 2018, 33 percent were not restrained at all. There is no statistical data to indicate precisely how many rideshare collisions occur every year, but research suggests that rideshare services are responsible for an increase in motor vehicle fatalities. As more families start resuming family vacations, it’s important that children are appropriately restrained in a vehicle, whether at home or on vacation.
Most state laws do not explicitly state whether child restraint laws apply to rideshare vehicles. My search of state agency websites didn’t provide clear answers either. Instead, this information usually has to be pieced together by analyzing several state statutes or regulations, a process that would prove challenging to anyone without a legal background. Even as an experienced attorney, it took time for me to find the relevant sections of state law and analyze the language to figure out the legal requirements for just a single state.
Determining whether child restraint laws applied to rideshare vehicles was my first challenge. Some states classify rideshare vehicles as commercial vehicles, while other states specifically exclude them. Some states exclude commercial vehicles from child safety restraint laws, while others do not. For example, in Michigan, rideshare vehicles are regulated under the same law as taxicabs and limousines. However, the law states explicitly that a rideshare vehicle is not “a taxicab, limousine, or commercial vehicle.” When looking at Michigan’s vehicle code, you see that it only excludes commercial vehicles from rules regarding the use of appropriate child safety restraints. Therefore, because rideshares aren’t commercial vehicles, they must abide by the law and require proper child safety restraints while transporting children.
Though Michigan law clarifies that the driver of the motor vehicle is responsible for ensuring the use of child safety restraints, it is unclear who has the responsibility to supply or install the car seat. Further complicating matters, no one child safety restraint will generally work for all children of all ages, weights, and heights. And even then, car seats must be reconfigured and adjusted for each child to ensure the seat fits properly, or else it may not provide protection. Installing and adjusting car seats is often time-consuming and presents a burden for rideshare drivers and parents alike.
Uber has attempted to address this by offering ‘Uber Car Seat,’ at least in the New York City market. But there are limits. The IMMI Go car seat that Uber uses is a forward facing only seat and does not work for children under age two who must be in a rear facing car seat by law. Ubers are also equipped with just a single car seat, so parents with more than one young child would have to ride separately or find another option. There is a $10 surcharge for the service, which significantly adds to the cost. And the service generally must be booked well in advance, making it difficult for families to use it as a substitution for regular rideshare or taxi services.
Because children riding in rideshare vehicles are at equal risk for injury or death as a child driven in a parent’s car, states should amend their laws to ensure that rideshare vehicles are subject to the same requirements as other passenger vehicles. Additionally, states should clearly indicate on the state department of motor vehicle, public health, and tourist bureau websites the law involving the use of child safety restraints in taxis, rideshares, and other hired transportation options that families frequently use on vacation. The law should clarify who is responsible for providing and installing the safety restraint device and whether rideshare drivers are required to have training in using child safety restraints.
Rideshare drivers should be educated on the law and know if they are liable for ensuring that children are properly restrained in their vehicles. Rideshare companies should have a policy that requires rideshare drivers to decline services when a child would be unrestrained in their vehicle. Rideshare companies should also offer a greater range of services that accommodate parents traveling with young children, such as providing the option for rear facing car seats, more than one car seat, and booster seats for older children.
There are some lightweight car seat and booster seat options that are great for families to take with them when they travel. But the car seat industry should step up to produce a greater range of lightweight, affordable, and long-lasting options that are great for use at home or while traveling.
Ultimately, the risks of injury or death in motor vehicles don’t take a vacation just because families are on one. Properly restraining children in a car, regardless of the circumstances, will keep kids safe and allow families to enjoy their vacations without added risk or worry.
This post written by Jennifer Bernstein, JD, MPH, CIPP/US, Deputy Director, Network for Public Health Law – Mid-States Region Office.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document do not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.
Support for the Network is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The views expressed in this post do not represent the views of (and should not be attributed to) RWJF.