This is a common question about liability when transporting kids: Can you transport a kid without express permission from his or her parent?
In a time of soccer season and other sports after school and on weekends, should you worry about personal liability in connection with transportation of children? Probably not, cause you have enough to worry about anyway. However, a little knowledge is always a good thing, and could help you make the right decision down the road. Let’s start with you driving another kid home from soccer practice when the kid’s parent is not present and the kid asks you for a ride.
If you were negligent in driving the child home, and the child was injured because of your negligence, then yes, the child could sue you. Your automobile bodily injury liability coverage would apply, protecting you up to the limits of that coverage. You are not automatically liable because the child was riding in your car. You would have to have done something negligent behind the wheel, like not leave enough following distance or go through a traffic light that was more red than yellow. There is no mitigation or break because you were doing the child a favor, if you were negligent while driving the child home.
More serious is the tiny possibility of a criminal issue. This is unlikely. Please do not think you will go to jail for driving another parent’s kid home. However, it is our job to inform you of things you may not know. You should be aware of the following criminal law in Pennsylvania and the “14 year old Rule”:
§ 2904. Interference with custody of children.
(a) Offense defined.–A person commits an offense if he knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any child under the age of 18 years from the custody of its parent, guardian or other lawful custodian, when he has no privilege to do so.
(b) Defenses.–It is a defense that:
(1) the actor believed that his action was necessary to preserve the child from danger to its welfare; or
(2) the child, being at the time not less than 14 years old, was taken away at its own instigation without enticement and without purpose to commit a criminal offense with or against the child; or
(3) the actor is the child’s parent or guardian or other lawful custodian and is not acting contrary to an order entered by a court of competent jurisdiction.
(c) Grading.–The offense is a felony of the third degree
So, if a child of age 14 or over asks you for a ride home, and you can’t reach his or her parent on the phone, there is likely no potential criminal implication. The child acted at “its own instigation without enticement and [the adult] without purpose to commit a criminal offense….”
But let’s say the kid is 13. The kid’s Mom rushes to the soccer field, sped all the way to get there on time, and got there just two minutes after you left, with her child in tow. Her kid is nowhere to be found on the field. You stopped at Rita’s water ice on the way to the kid’s home. You figured it would be a nice thing to do. It was a long line. A bunch of kids enjoyed the water ice at Rita’s. So the other parent’s kid didn’t get home until 45 minutes after the practice was over.
When you pull up in the kid’s driveway, the police are already there, as the Mom (whose cell was lost or broken or left at the office) thought her child had been kidnapped. Not everyone has a land-line these days. The Mom is hysterical. The kid now becomes hysterical. Everyone is hysterical, except the police.
The 13 year old is so upset, she is not entirely clear in explaining that she had asked you to be taken home. In all likelihood, there would be no criminal charges filed against you. There was no intent. However, if the kid were 12, or 11, or 10, and really shaken up by seeing the police, who knows what could happen? Maybe the kid is not sufficiently clear in explaining to the police that she asked you for a ride and that you tried to call her Mom three times before you said yes, because you didn’t want to leave her stranded.
Thus, if a child is under 14, it may be risky to transport the child without the express permission of that child’s parent. Expression permission is the wise course of conduct. If you can’t get it, try to reach another relative of the child you are asked to transport. Leave a message on the child’s home answering machine and parent’s cell number. The point is, communicate your intent before you exercise your intent. Thus, it is clear you had no criminal intent, only the well intentioned idea of not leaving a child stranded at a soccer field at dusk.