I was so happy when Colorado bumped their booster laws up to the minimum recommended 8 years old and 4'9", but I know that just changing laws isn't going to be enough to make all parents use car seats properly. Still, it's a step forward and I'm also glad when states with unsafe laws update theirs. California has just passed a new booster seat law!
I spoke to Californian Anne Hamilton, a certified car passenger safety technician, who is also on the board of SafetyBeltSafe USA. Her own family was in a terrible accident that ended with the car upside down on top of rocks, and she's written her own pamphlet about best practice of car seats. I asked her to help explain California's new booster laws to moms.
Here's what she had to say:
Christie: Does the new law only refer to using a booster, or when you can go without one? How does this differ from the existing laws?
Anne: Our new law makes several changes to the previous child restraint laws in California. Children under 8 need to be in the back seat (unless it's not possible/practical) in a properly used child restraint system (meaning any American booster seat, car seat with harness, or restraint vest). It also says that children under 8 who are 4'9" AND fit the belt properly do not need to be in a CRS. It updates other sections of the law about distribution of information and police enforcement and will go into effect January 1, 2012.
California's previous law stated that children must be in the back seat, in a seat, until 6 years old or 60 pounds, and all children under 16 and over 6 or 60 pounds must wear a seatbelt, and all occupants 16 and over must wear a seatbelt. This new law defines that clause:
"For purposes of this section the phrase, ‘properly restrained by a safety belt’ means that the lower (lap) portion of the belt crosses the hips or upper thighs of the occupant and the upper (shoulder) portion of the belt, if present, crosses the chest in front of the occupant."
What difference does this make in terms of child safety? What would you say to people who may need to go out and buy a new seat?
The new law's definition of proper belt fit means that if it doesn't fit properly, the child needs a booster. It means that it's illegal to allow a child to put the belt behind her back. Police officers can now easily, visually check for whether a child is legal or not, without having to weigh a child.
Many parents already knew that children need to stay in restraints until they pass the 5-Step Test. This law makes sure everyone knows that. Booster seats do not have to be expensive or embarrassing. They will, in fact, help make your child more comfortable, as well as safer, with a properly fitted belt! The Harmony LiteRider/Youth Booster and Cosco Highrise/Ambassador are both under $20 and position the belt well for older children who still need better belt fit. If all children who need a booster ride in one, it will become the norm, and not be embarrassing. Besides, it's got to be easier emotionally to use a booster as long as you need one than to be paralyzed in a crash!
If you cannot afford even $14-$20, seek out a community distribution program in your area.
Is there anything else you want parents to know?
Some parents have complained that by this definition, THEY need a booster; their child will need one until 16; etc. If they don’t fit the belt, they might! The point of the law is to make sure kids fit until after puberty, when both bones and impulse control are better developed; adults and older teens are less likely to put the belt behind their backs, under their arms, or not wear it if it is uncomfortable.
This law was not created to burden parents. It was created to make children safer. When children are properly restrained, there are less deaths and serious injuries in crashes, and when those go down, so do costs to the state and Californian taxpayers! This is not only an ethical win in protecting vulnerable children -- it's a financial win for the state and the taxpayer, too!
California has long been a trendsetter. Hopefully, with our new law making sure all children are required to fit the belt properly until 16 and wear the belt properly after that, we will start a nationwide trend that will lead the top-ranked killer of Americans, motor vehicle crashes, becoming less deadly!
Thanks Anne! Anyone have any questions? What do you think of the new law?
Image via ToysRUs