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Topics > Healthy Outlook > New Law Helps Parents Protect Older Children in Cars

New Law Helps Parents Protect Older Children in Cars

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Mar. 16, 2005

By Denise Gallegos-Milosevich

Sheila is having trouble with her son, Collin. The five-year-old never liked using car or booster seats, and he now resists using a booster seat because "I'm a big boy now." Sheila had bargained with him for months as a 3 year old; "You must sit in your booster seat now, but when you are four years old you won't have to."

But on January 1, 2005, a new law took effect which requires a booster seat for all children under 6 years old or 60 pounds. Now that Collin is four, he's trying to hold Sheila to her previous promise. Sheila had repeated so many times that he could stop using a booster seat when he turned four, he doesn't want to accept the change.

Sheila knows that her minivan's seats are designed for adults, not children, and that seat belts won't restrain her son safely unless he's using a booster seat. Many experts even recommend boosters until age eight because of the possible danger to young people.

But convincing Collin of the dangers of an accident is difficult. Collin doesn't want to believe Sheila when she threatens "a policemen will stop me and give me a ticket if you're not in your booster." Or, "You could get a big owie if mama has an accident and you aren't in your booster."

In fact, there's a hefty $100 fine for the first violation. The Court may waive or reduce the fine, but must refer the parent to a violator program. For a second offense, the fine goes up to $250 and auto insurance rates may increase. The law prescribes four safety restraint regimes for children based on their age and weight:

  1. For infants, from newborn to at least one year old and at least 20 pounds, rear facing car seats in the back seat.
  2. For toddlers age one and 20 pounds to age four and 40 pounds, forward facing car seats in the back seat.
  3. For children over 40 pounds to at least age six or 60 pounds, booster seats in the back seat.
  4. For children age at least six or weighing at least 60 pounds, safety belts in the back seat.

If you have children between six and eight years old, and you're not sure whether they need a booster seat, there's a simple Five Step Test you can use to determine what to do:

  1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
  2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
  3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and the arm?
  4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to ride safely in the car.

Parents should keep in mind that they are their children's most important and closest examples, and should therefore model safe behavior to their children.

Parents also learn to pick their battles with their children. This is a battle the parent must win. No choice. No exceptions.

Denise Gallegos-Milosevich is a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and a Coordinator of the county's Injury Prevention Project.

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