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NTSB: Booster Seat Laws Still Needed In Several States

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Parents often drive around with their young children in the car. Those parents also get into accidents while their young children are in the car. But what many parents don’t realize is that young children aren’t just two, three and four year olds. Children eight years old or younger are particularly vulnerable to serious injury or death, unless they are properly restrained. From 1998 through 2007, more than 3,500 child occupants between the ages of four and eight died in traffic crashes. Of those 3,500 children about 50 percent were unrestrained. Further, of those restrained, most were restrained improperly, in a seat belt designed for adults. Yet, despite those staggering statistics, as of October 2010, only 29 states and the District of Columbia required the use of a restraint or booster seat for children through age seven. Only two of those states, Wyoming and Tennessee, required that children be placed in a restraint or booster seat through age eight.

Whether parents are being lazy or are simply unaware of the dangers associated with leaving their child unrestrained, the fact remains that children who are properly restrained have a much better chance of surviving a crash. Lorrie Walker, of the advocacy group Safe Kids USA, says that the rationale behind the use of restraints or booster seats boils down to science. “These state laws are all different, but the law of physics is the same across the board,” Walker said. “What most parents don’t understand is that all that safety equipment in a car has been designed to fit adults. The booster seat is an adapter that takes that adult equipment and adapts it to the size of the child.”

The problem with regular seat belts is that they don’t protect children who weigh less than 80 to 100 pounds or are shorter than four feet, nine inches. Children who fall into those categories are too short for the diagonal strap to fit securely across their shoulders. They are also too short for the other belt to fit snugly across their hips.

According to Walker, children need booster seats until they can do three things. They need to be tall enough so that the seat belt rests against a hard, bony surface. They also need to be able to bend their knees at the edge of the seat, even while sitting up straight and they need to be able to maintain that position for the duration of the trip.

The overwhelming statistics supporting the use of restraints and booster seats is meaningless unless all states enact laws requiring such use for children age eight and under. Car crashes are inevitable, but they don’t have to be deadly. Moreover, just because only 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws thus far, does not give parents from other states a free pass to wait for more stringent restraint laws to be passed. Parents from those states can take initiative on their own, by properly restraining their children until they reach an appropriate age. By taking those measures and advocating for stricter restraint laws, those parents can save their children’s lives.