Booster seat law in effect

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Starting today, children who are under age 8 and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches tall must be in a child safety seat or booster seat when riding in an automobile.

Under the new booster-seat law passed by the Minnesota Legislature, children cannot use a seat belt alone until they reach those requirements.

The law accompanies the new primary seat belt law that went into effect June 9, which requires drivers and passengers to be belted or in a child restraint to avoid being stopped and ticketed by law enforcement.

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“We in the child-passenger-safety field are very excited about the new booster seat law,” said Albert Lea Police officer Tim Harves. “If it saves one life it has done what it was intended to do — save unnecessary loss of life or significant injury due to small children using adult safety belts alone.”

Currently, a child who reaches age 4 has no legal obligation to use any type of child restraint as long as the seat belt is used, Harves said.

According to a Minnesota Department of Public Safety news release, only 30 percent of Minnesota children use boosters.

“Boosters are common-sense safety tools to ensure children are riding as safe as possible in a vehicle,” said Heather Darby, child passenger safety coordinator for the state Department of Public Safety, in the release. “Children who are shorter than 4 feet 9 simply aren’t tall enough to use a seat belt alone. If they do, a belt may do more damage than good in case of a crash.”

Darby said children are not ready to ride in a seat belt until they can sit with their back against the vehicle seat, their knees bent completely over the seat and their feet touching the floor.

A common sign that a seat belt does not fit properly is if the child wraps the belt behind them to avoid the belt rubbing against their neck, the release stated.

In the last five years in Minnesota, 18 passengers ages 4 to 8 were killed in crashes and more than 3,000 were injured, the release stated.

Since 1991, 86 percent of children who were involved in crashes and who were properly restrained were not injured, while 13 percent sustained minor injuries, according to the release.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety recommends parents keep children in a booster based on their height rather than their age.

Harves said the safest restraint for a child is still the five-point harness.

“Just because your child has reached the legal landmark for not using a child restraint anymore does not automatically mean that the adult seat belt will work as a proper restraint for them,” he said.

When a child has reached the weight limit for the five-point harness, he or she can graduate to a booster seat and use the adult seat belt in conjunction with that, he said. Children should not leave the booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches.

Harves said when selecting a booster seat, parents need to be conscious of the head protection the child will get from the vehicle’s seat.

If the child’s head extends above the top of the seat, a parent should get a full booster seat with a back. If the child’s head is protected by a head rest in the vehicle, a parent would probably only need to buy a backless booster seat.

Parents with any questions can attend child passenger safety clinics every third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to noon at Flaherty’s Auto Center in Albert Lea. Appointments can be made for these clinics by calling (507) 377-5100.