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Boosting State's Car Seat Laws

Gov. Brown signs new booster seat law, aimed at saving children's lives.

I’ll call him Brandon. He was just 3 years old. When we first arrived on the scene of the two-car traffic accident, we were met by Brandon’s mother—frantic, crying and begging for us to do something. Peering into the backseat of the mangled car, expecting to see the worst, we saw Brandon’s little body, amid all the twisted metal and plastic, his bloody little legs moving, his lungs left with just enough air to manage a weak cry. He was trapped. We went right to work! Using the “Jaws of Life,” a hydraulic tool with 40,000 pounds of prying strength, we were able to quickly gain access to Brandon and tend to his injuries. He was in critical condition. We took him to an awaiting helicopter and flew him to a pediatric trauma center.

This scene, and the thousands of others like it, responded to by fire and EMS personnel around the world, is disturbing. What’s equally disturbing, however, is when we finally got to little Brandon, we determined that he had been launched from his car seat. The actual car seat restraint system had been lazily left unlatched, with the shoulder belts left completely loose. It was as if Brandon had just been placed in the seat, his arms placed into the shoulder straps like two loose back straps.

As firefighters we see this all too often. Traffic collisions are among the leading causes of death for children between ages 1 and 14. It’s been shown that nearly 60 percent of a child’s risk of injury is reduced by using a booster seat instead of a seat belt.

So when I heard that Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a new law to strengthen booster seat requirements, effective Jan. 1, 2012, I was delighted. The current law requires a child under age 6, weighing less than 60 pounds, to be secured in a rear seat, using a child passenger restraint system that’s federally approved. The new bill prohibits a child under 8 from being transported in a vehicle by a parent, legal guardian or otherwise from being secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system that meets federal safety standards. The new bill also imposes fines and penalties for violations, and that’s the part I like.

So what’s the process for buying the proper car seat for your child? I can tell you there’s a lot more to it than going to a discount store and buying the least expensive seat. First, make sure the seat you’re buying is one that was made after 1981, and is labeled as meeting federal safety standards.

When it comes to the type of seat you need, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a chart that explains the type you should have, based on a child’s size and age. Once you know the type and size, check the model number and date of manufacture. This information will allow you to check NHTSA’s Office for Defects (ODI) for product recalls.

When you get your car seat home, make sure you understand the instruction manual, and that there don't appear to be any defects or missing parts. Assemble it and make sure that it actually fits in your car properly. Most importantly, make sure your child actually fits the new seat. For proper installation of your car seat, you can go to any fire station, California Highway Patrol (CHP) office, or visit SeatCheck.org and schedule an appointment with a Child Passenger Safety Technician. None of these tips will be of any use unless you actually plan on using the car seat properly.

Brandon ended up dying of his injuries. The forces involved in Brandon’s accident were so great, and the damage to the car he was in was so massive, there’s no telling whether he would have survived if he’d been properly placed in his car seat. But car seats, when properly used, DO save lives. Take nothing for granted when it comes to safety. Stay on your game.

And remember to stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready!

Irene Gibson October 20, 2011 at 10:22 PM
The statement needs correcting: "The new bill prohibits a child under 8 from being transported in a vehicle by a parent, legal guardian or otherwise UNLESS secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system that meets federal safety standards."
Roland Sprewell October 21, 2011 at 05:36 AM
Thank you for the correction Irene. I must've missed that edit.
Irene Gibson October 21, 2011 at 06:45 PM
You're welcome Roland. I just happened to notice because I am a consultant to providers of comprehensive perinatal services in California, helping them to conform to the law that provides prenatal and postpartum services to low income women. So I am alert to any related laws, one of which is the car seat law. We see to it that a newborn never leaves the hospital parking lot without appropriate restraint. New parents are educated about this prior to birth and sometimes wait until the last minute. Good that YOU are on your toes! It's so important for parents to understand the reasons behind such laws, and wonderful that guys like you can help them find what they must have and use it properly.
Kate Quirk October 21, 2011 at 10:44 PM
So pleased to see you covering this very important issue which causes so many tragedies but is little talked about. Families who would like help in protecting their children in the car are welcome to call the SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. Safe Ride Helpline on 800/745 SAFE. (Just to note, the photograph illustrating this article shows a safety seat that is not legal in the US, and a child that is not safely restrained.) SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. offers many resources to professionals who work with parents, including Ride Safe from the Start, a comprehensive online education program for expectant parents. Professionals who want to discuss program interventions are welcome to get in touch through the Safe Ride Helpline.
Roland Sprewell October 21, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Thank you so much Kate! I appreciate the information and the "good eye" on the photo. As you can imagine, in my profession we see a lot of apathy (or ignorance) on the part of parents out there, when it comes to proper car seat installation. Unfortunately by the time we show up, the results of that apathy is very much a tragic scene that could've been avoided. Thanx for the heads up on the picture. I was trying to use a picture that was consistent with the theme of the article and failed to pay close attention to the picture. Thank you again for the feedback and I'll check the SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.

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