New year, new car seat laws

COAST CITIES — Children must ride in car seats or booster seats for an additional two years until they reach age 8 or 4 feet 9 inches, effective immediately as one of the state’s new laws for 2012.

Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, authored bill SB 929.

Previously, the car seat law required children to use seat restraints in vehicles until they became age 6 or 60 pounds.

Drivers are subject to a $100 fine for the first time they offend the law, and the second and subsequent offenses are punishable by a $250 fee, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Local parents have mixed opinions about the new law, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2011 after twice being vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger.

Scott Murphy, of Carlsbad, has two boys ages 6 and 7 who both were still using booster seats on Dec. 31, 2011, although at that time they were not required to by law.

“When I put them in without the booster seat, the seat belt goes around their neck,” he said.

Sandra Rodriguez of San Marcos also said she is OK with the new law.

“I don’t mind it at all,” she said.

Her daughter, at 6 years old and 45 pounds, still rides in a safety seat.

Sonja Atkins, of Safe Kids USA, an organization that helped sponsor the new bill, said that car accidents are the No. 1 killer of children younger than age 14.

Safe Kids USA has local coalitions nationwide that use research and develop programs to help prevent deaths from accidents and injuries to kids younger than 14.

Atkins said the use of booster seats can increase children’s chance of survival by 45 percent.

“What the booster seat does, is it lifts the child up so the lap belt will ride on top of their hips instead of being on their belly,” she said.

When the seat belts are properly fitted to the body, they should hit a person’s boney parts, she said.

“The shoulder belt goes over your chest bone and collar bone. That’s where you take the force,” she said.

Many booster seats are designed to handle weight of more than 100 pounds, and some can be purchased for less than $20.

“I’m not a huge fan because it’s one more thing they’re telling you on how to raise your kid,” said Estelle, of Carlsbad, who is the mother of three children.

Estelle asked not to give her last name, but said she has a son who will be 8 in July and that he just now measures the required height of 4 feet 9 so he won’t have to ride in a booster.

Senator Evans began working on updating the transportation safety standards in 2006.

She said California used to be the leader in requiring seat belts, and over the years the state has been on a slow decline in comparison with other states.

She said she happy the new law is finally in place.

“It makes it a lot easier to argue with the kid,” she said. “As a parent you can tell them it’s the law.”

Even for those people who think it’s an extra burden, the safety of the child far outweighs any small burden, she said.

The new law also states “no child may ride in the front seat of a car with an active air bag if they are in a rear facing child passenger restraint.”


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