PENNSYLVANIA Taxi drivers say child-seat law will be no fare

Parents should be the ones to provide safety devices, taxicab officials argue.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A new state law requiring children under 8 to sit in booster seats while riding in cars may save lives, but taxicab drivers say it could cost them their livelihood.
Starting Feb. 21, Pennsylvania drivers, including cabbies, face $100 fines if children between the ages of 4 and 7 riding in their vehicles are not in approved booster seats. The state already requires children under 4 to be in child seats.
The new law is intended to protect children who are too big for infant car seats and too small for seat belts. About 500 children between ages 4 and 8 die each year in car accidents nationwide, the leading cause of death for that age group.
In 2000, 24 children under the age of 8 died in traffic crashes in Pennsylvania and an additional 3,549 were injured, state transportation officials say.
Booster seats for children 4 to 7 years could save lives and reduce the risk of serious injuries by 60 percent, says a study by the Partners for Child Passenger Safety, the research arm of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Impact on drivers
But taxi drivers and cab companies say the new law could reduce their business, either from lost fares or fines.
"It is not that we are against child seats or child safety, but when you have a 300-car fleet and do 2,000 trips a day, you can't be thinking, 'Is this child old enough?' " said James Capolongo, president of the Pennsylvania Taxicab and Paratransit Association, an industry group.
Taxi drivers would pay a $100 fine if caught transporting a child without a booster or safety seat and as much as $1,000 for refusing a fare, said Capolongo, also president of Yellow Cab of Pittsburgh.
Although drivers aren't required to stock their taxis with child or booster seats, they should be able to pick one up from their company, said Cyndi Page, a spokeswoman for the Public Utility Commission, which regulates taxis.
Drivers counter that fetching car seats is unrealistic when time is money and note that they can't leave the meter running when they drive to get the seat.
There's also a sense that parents are getting a free ride.
"It seems to me they should put it on the parents and tell them if they need to travel to have these [seats] for their children, not the other way around," said Michael Lieberman, president of Old City Taxi in Philadelphia.
Capolongo said the taxicab industry plans to lobby state transportation officials to exempt taxicabs, arguing that taxis should be treated like buses and other group transportation.
All 50 states have laws requiring child seats, but 26 states and Washington, D.C., exempt taxis, said Jim Reed, director of transportation for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.
Pennsylvania is among 14 states that require the use of booster seats for children who have outgrown safety seats. But only a handful -- including Arkansas, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island -- require booster and child seats in taxis, Reed said.
But officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation say taxis will not likely be afforded exemptions similar to those granted school buses and other vehicles that carry 15 passengers or more.

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