Back to school season has arrived, and as schools start up again, so do carpools. Driving carpool is an excellent strategy for sharing the task of shuttling your kids to and from school, but it also comes with its own liability risks. As the driver, you are responsible for getting your passengers safely to their destination. You need to make sure your insurance is large enough to cover the unfortunate event of an accident where someone else’s child in your car gets injured. And if your child is riding in someone else’s car, make sure you have enough underinsured motorist coverage on your policy in case something should happen to your own child while riding with an uninsured driver.
One of the safest things you can do as a carpool driver is to make sure all your passengers are restrained correctly in seats appropriate for their age, weight, and height. In New York, the law requires a child under two years old to rear-face in either an infant seat or a convertible car seat, depending on how tall and heavy the child is. Legally, after age two, a child can forward-face, although the child is actually safest rear-facing until he or she outgrows the seat, around age three or four. This is because the development of the spine is not complete until the child is older, making it more vulnerable to serious injury before that time.
Carpooling parents often like to use boosters for their kids because booster seats are light and easy to move from car to car. However, children should not be in booster seats until they are at least four years old AND 40 pounds AND mature enough to sit properly in the car without leaning to the side, even while sleeping. Many parents actually “booster train” their kids before officially switching from five-point-harness to booster.
Kids should stay in a booster until they can pass the five-step test:
Proper car seat installation can be tricky, but if you read your car seat manual and watch a few videos, you can quickly master it. There are two ways to install a car seat – using the seatbelt or using the LATCH system. LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children and is quite easy to use in many car seats. The one thing to keep in mind is that there is usually a weight limit for using LATCH, so make sure the child riding in the seat is under the weight limit. Once your car seat is installed, it should not move more than one inch in any direction. Information about weight limits and installation instructions can be found in your car seat manual.
Now that you have the proper seat for each child riding in your car and you’ve installed each seat correctly, you need to make sure you actually buckle the child in the right way. The straps should not be twisted, the chest clip should be buckled so that the top of the clip is at the child’s armpits, and the harness should be pulled tight enough that you can’t pinch the straps at the child’s shoulders.
When children in your carpool are restrained correctly in the car, they are much less likely to get seriously injured should an accident happen. Proper car seat use protects not only them but also you as the driver responsible for them. Don’t be the reason someone’s kid gets hurt, and don’t put yourself in the situation where another parent may press charges against you. Keep the kids in your car safe, and you’ll keep yourself safe, too. And, of course, follow all the rules of the road! Don’t take driving risks like speeding and illegal U-turns–ever, but especially while driving carpool.
If you are ever in need of legal assistance after a car accident, the attorneys at Weinstein, Chase, Messinger, and Peters are here to help. We have extensive experience settling litigation cases in favor of our clients. Contact our office in Brooklyn, NY so we can assist you right away.