NTSB Puts Heat On States Without Booster Seat Laws

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A child sleeps in a booster seat in the car. i

The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for tougher laws on the use of child booster seats. The agency recommends children start using boosters as soon as they outgrow the height and weight limits of their harnessed car seat. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com
A child sleeps in a booster seat in the car.

The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for tougher laws on the use of child booster seats. The agency recommends children start using boosters as soon as they outgrow the height and weight limits of their harnessed car seat.

iStockphoto.com

The National Transportation Safety Board is scolding the leaders of three states for not passing tougher laws mandating child booster seats.

Booster seats are required in 47 states and the District of Columbia, though the NTSB says those laws often could be strengthened. But Arizona, Florida and South Dakota don't require older children to ride in boosters, and the federal agency says that puts young people at unnecessary risk.

The board recommends booster seats for children roughly between the ages of 4 and 8 — kids who are too big for child safety seats with harnesses, but too small to properly wear a regular seat belt.

Booster Benefits

As their name implies, booster seats allow children to sit higher so auto seat belts fit them better. Deborah Hersman, head of the NTSB, says this protects young people from head and abdominal injuries.

"If they use a booster seat and a seat belt, rather than a seat belt alone, they reduce their risk of injury by 59 percent," Hersman says. "And what the data and the facts tell us is that it's much safer to be in a booster seat that restrains your child properly in the event of an accident."

Earlier this year, Alaska, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas became the latest states to require booster seats. Now, Hersman is calling on leaders in Arizona, Florida and South Dakota to come into line with the rest of the nation.

"We know that states that have laws have greater use rates, and then, therefore, they have lower fatality numbers for kids," she says. "At the end of the day, we want to see them protected."

Laws Overly Restraining, Politician Says

In each of the three remaining states, lawmakers have considered booster seat mandates. In Florida and Arizona, the idea was shot down in the Legislature, while in South Dakota, it was vetoed by Gov. Mike Rounds. The Republican governor says children are adequately protected by his state's current law, which requires safety seats until age 4 and regular seat belts for older children who sit in the back seat and everybody up front.

South Dakota state Rep. Garry Moore, a Democrat, agrees with the governor's veto and questions how police would enforce a booster seat law for children under 7.

"I think it's absolutely impossible unless you carry a birth certificate of the child," Moore says. "It becomes arbitrary upon the law enforcement officer to determine whether the child is indeed old enough."

Moore says parents should be allowed to decide for themselves how much protection their children need in the car. He says that in the rural state of South Dakota, few people want the federal government to get involved in the issue.

"I'm to the point anymore where I firmly believe that maybe government should just take the children at birth and raise them for us," Moore says. "They're not letting parents make their own decisions anymore. And it just seems ludicrous to me to make these laws telling parents what to do."

Advocates Continue To Push

In fact, the NTSB has no authority to force states to adopt booster seat laws, and Moore doubts pressure from Washington will make much difference in South Dakota. But in Arizona and Florida, booster seat advocates say they plan to try again next year to get the law passed.

Florida state Sen. Thad Altman is optimistic that his legislative colleagues will eventually be swayed both by the NTSB position and by statements from people whose children were injured in accidents.

"There are parents who have just given heart-rending testimony, that had not put their child in a booster seat because they knew the law. The law didn't require a 5- or 6-year-old child to be in a booster seat, so they were assuming that they were being good parents," Altman says. "So a lot of it is designed not just for a punitive reason but for public education."

The NTSB recommends that children start using boosters as soon as they outgrow the height and weight limits of their harnessed car seat. Typically, children can start using regular seat belts — with no booster — when they weigh more than 80 pounds.

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