Governor Brown just signed a brand-new booster seat law that becomes effective January 1, 2012. Existing law requires a child under 6 years of age who weighs less than 60 pounds to be secured in a rear seat in a child passenger restraint system that meets specified federal standards, but allows the child to ride in the front seat if properly secured in a child passenger restraint system that meets specified federal standards, underspecified circumstances, including riding in taxis among, and if all rear seats are already occupied by children under 12 years of age.
This new bill prohibits a parent, legal guardian, or driver from transporting on a highway in a motor vehicle, any child under 8 years old without securing that child in an appropriate child passenger restraint system meeting applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. The new bill imposes fines and penalties for violations.
How does this affect you? According to Katie Smith, Director of Safe Kids California, in passing the new booster seat law, which will extend the current law by requiring children to ride in booster seats in the back seat until their 8th birthday, California joins more than 37 other states with strong booster seat laws. The law, which was co-sponsored by the California Coalition for Children’s Safety and Health, Safe Kids California, and California State Alliance of YMCA’s, mirrors the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Seat belts are designed for the average adult male, and do not properly fit a child who is not at least 4’9” tall. Children in the 6-7 year old age group are particularly at risk because they may be too big for many child safety seats and yet too small to fully benefit from seat belts. A booster seat raises the child to reposition the seat belt properly so that the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs rather than the stomach. The shoulder harness should lie snug across the shoulder and chest – the strongest part of the child’s body – and not cross the neck or face.
Auto collisions are the leading cause of death for children ages 4-12 and one of the leading causes of injury and disability. Parents who want to keep their children safe will check the law to ensure they are doing what is required to help avoid injury in case of an accident. We have long felt that it is a dangerous disservice to California parents to lead them to believe that by following the current law – which requires children up to six years old or sixty pounds to ride in a child restraint device in the back seat – they are doing what’s best to safeguard their children, when the data shows us otherwise. The fact is that using a booster seat, instead of a seatbelt, reduces a child’s risk of injury by 59%.
The new law, which will extend protection to 6 and 7-year-olds, goes into effect January 1, 2012. Acknowledging that seat belts fit a taller child appropriately, the new law includes a provision that a child under 8 years of age who is 4 feet 9 inches in height or taller may be properly restrained by a safety belt rather than a child safety seat or booster seat. To maximize safety, parents should select a car seat based on their child’s age and size, choose a car seat or booster that fits in their vehicle, and use it every time. Parents can check for car seat check-up events in their area to get help from trained safety technicians on proper installation and fit for their child.
As one of our Safe Kids Trauma Coordinators commented, the new law will “protect hundreds of children every year from intra-abdominal injury, lumbar chance fractures, or multisystem trauma from ejection due to inappropriate restraints.” We know the new law will save lives and we are elated!