Child car booster seat requirement toughens State could mandate children be 6 years or 60 pounds State could mandate children be
WEST SACRAMENTO — Rarely a day goes by that Victoria Williams’ two children, ages 1 and 2, do not try to wriggle out of their car seats.
“I’ll be driving down the highway and have to pull over because they are totally out of their seats,” Williams says. “They hate those things.”
Given their disdain for the restrictive straps and hard plastic, Anthony and Brandon won’t like a bill waiting for the governor’s signature that would require them to ride in booster seats until they are 6 or weigh 60 pounds.
If signed by Gov. Gray Davis, California would be the first state to enforce the requirement. The state’s law would take effect January 2002, followed six months later by a similar Washington state law.
The California bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jackie Speier, a Daly City Democrat whose husband died in a car crash, contends standard seat belts are designed for adults and fail to protect young children adequately.
A small child can slip out of a standard seat belt in a collision and get thrown from the vehicle, or receive serious internal injuries or cuts in the throat from the belt.
Booster seats, typically about $30 to $100, raise a child so the lap belt fits over the pelvis and the shoulder strap fits across the chest, reducing the possibility
of spinal cord and abdominal injuries. Some models include
a head rest for whiplash protection. California currently requires the seats for children up to age 4 and 40 pounds.
Speier aides say they are “cautiously optimistic” the governor will sign this year’s bill. Davis has not said whether he will or not.
A measure that would have covered children up to 7 regardless of weight was pulled off his desk last year after he asked that weight limits be added.
There is talk of legislation similar to Washington’s and California’s in at least three states, including Idaho, Texas and Colorado.
A bill to put 7-year-olds in booster seats failed to pass New York’s Senate.
The California bill would double the first-time fine for motorists who violate the requirement to $100. Subsequent violations would be $250.
The measure would give part of the fine revenue to communities where the violations occurred for use in child passenger safety education programs that would loan or offer the low-cost purchase of booster seats.
The California Highway Patrol issued more than 10,000 citations for car seat violations last year. California Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, who has a 5-year-old son, says parents should not be criminalized for making individual decisions about their children’s safety.
“To say that I am not taking every precaution with my son is ridiculous,” Morrow said. “The laws now were based on the best scientific information and I think it is still the best standard.”
Parents with three children under 6 have also complained about the bill, saying three booster seats cannot fit in the back seat of many vehicles.
Washington state’s new booster seat law stemmed from the death of 4-year-old Anton Skeen, thrown from his seat belt and a sports utility vehicle in a rollover crash four years ago.
Rescuers found the seat belt still fastened. The boy’s mother, Autumn Alexander Skeen, was also wearing a seat belt and was found strapped in the totaled vehicle.
Skeen says she later learned a booster seat could have saved her son’s life, and that knowledge haunts her.
“I knew the laws but I didn’t think the little booster seat would do anything,” said Skeen of Walla Walla, who pushed for the Washington law and is a spokeswoman for a national education campaign set to start in November. “I figured there would be a law about it if it was needed.”
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children between 5 and 12.
Michele Willis, a Brea, Calif., mother of two, says it might be hard getting her 3-year-old daughter, Lauren, to stay in a booster seat another three years.
“Still, she has to do what I say,” Willis says. “She’ll get used to it.”
Read the California bill, SB567, at http://www.sen.ca.gov
Find more on child passenger safety at:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web page: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/