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NTSB Puts Heat On States Without Booster Seat Laws

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NTSB Puts Heat On States Without Booster Seat Laws

Children's Health

NTSB Puts Heat On States Without Booster Seat Laws

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And here's another story about efforts to save lives. The National Transportation Safety Board is scolding the leaders of three states for not passing tougher laws mandating child booster seats. Arizona, Florida and South Dakota are the only states that don't require older children to ride in boosters. The federal agency says that puts young people at unnecessary risk.

NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG: The NTSB recommends booster seats for children roughly between the ages of four and eight; kids who are too big for child safety seats with harnesses, but too small to properly wear a regular seat belt.

The boosters don't have harnesses of their own, but as their name implies, they allow children to sit higher, so the car's seatbelt fits them better. NTSB chair Deborah Hersman says that protects young people from head and abdominal injuries.

Ms. DEBORAH HERSMAN (National Transportation Safety Board): 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. 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.

HOCHBERG: Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia require boosters. Earlier this year, Alaska, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas became the latest states to do so. But that still leaves Arizona, Florida and South Dakota, and Hersman is calling on leaders in those three states to come into line with the rest of the nation.

Ms. HERSMAN: We know that states that have laws have greater use rates, and then therefore they have lower fatality numbers for kids. And at the end of the day, we want to see them protected.

HOCHBERG: In each of the three remaining states, lawmakers have considered booster seat mandates. But in Florida and Arizona, the idea was shot down in the legislature, while in South Dakota it was vetoed by Governor Mike Rounds. The second term Republican governor said children are adequately protected by his state's current law, which requires safety seats to age four, as well as regular seat belts for older children who sit in the back seat and everybody who sits up front.

Garry Moore was a Democrat State House member at the time and agrees with the governor's veto. He questions how police could enforce a booster seat law for children under seven.

State Representative GARRY MOORE (Democrat, South Dakota): I think it's absolutely impossible unless you carry a birth certificate of the child. It becomes arbitrary upon the law enforcement officer to determine whether the child is indeed old enough.

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

State Rep. MOORE: 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, because 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.

HOCHBERG: 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 Senator Thad Altman is optimistic his legislative colleagues will eventually be swayed, both by the NTSB position and by the statements from people whose children were injured in accidents.

State Senator THAD ALTMAN (Republican, Florida): 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 five or six-year-old child to be in a booster seat, so they were assuming that they were being good parents. So a lot of it is designed not just for a punitive reason but for public education.

HOCHBERG: The NTSB says even in the 47 states that require booster seats, the laws often could stand to be strengthened. The agency recommends 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.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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