ST. PAUL (February 1, 2011) – Minnesota’s strengthened child passenger safety law, which became effective in July 2009 and requires booster seats – seat lifts that help adult seat belts fit children properly – has generated a jump in booster seat use and has led to fewer child injuries, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety.
During 2007–2009, only 44 percent of booster-age children (ages 4–7) involved in crashes were riding in booster seats. In the year since the law became effective (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010), that percentage of children in boosters increased to 59 percent. DPS says this increase resulted in more than 250 children who suffered no injury in crashes.
“Booster seats are critical to a child’s safety in a vehicle,” says Heather Darby, DPS child passenger safety coordinator. “Safety should not be short-changed for our youngest and most vulnerable.”
Boosters are for children who have outgrown a forward-facing seat, usually starting around 40 pounds and age 4. Under state law, a child cannot be secured in only a seat belt until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall – whichever comes first. It is strongly recommended, however, to keep a child in a booster until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. The fine for booster seat non-use is $50, but can cost more than $100 with administrative fees.
DPS today released a new booster seat TV public service announcement titled “Just as Dangerous” to continue educating parents. In the spot, children are shown riding on the hood and roof of vehicles – illustrating that their safety is as compromised in those positions as inside the vehicle without a booster.
DPS is also promoting booster seat use through “Dino Booster” Valentines, which can be downloaded by elementary school teachers, colored by children and given to their parents. The Valentine cards have been made available by DPS since 2003. Elementary schools can also promote child passenger safety through other online material including “Give Me a Boost” stickers, child seat growth chart posters and a template email/newsletter article for schools to send to parents.
Lack of booster seat use results in poor seat belt fit that can contribute to serious injury and ejection from a vehicle in the event of a traffic crash. Darby says a sign that a seat belt does not fit properly and a booster is needed is if a child wraps the shoulder belt behind them to avoid the belt rubbing against their neck or crossing their face. Belts should be low and snug across the hips; shoulder straps should never be tucked under an arm or behind the back.
Restraint steps a child should progress through as they age and grow:
• Rear-facing infant seats – infants until at least one year and 20 pounds.
• Forward-facing toddler seats – 1 to approximately 4 years old.
• Booster seats – starting after children have outgrown the forward-facing toddler seat, usually after turning age 4, and is recommended until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.
• Seat belts – over 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall.
• Children should ride in the back seat until age 13; if riding in the front seat, passenger-side airbags should be turned off.
Most common child passenger safety mistakes:
• Turning a child from a rear-facing restraint to a forward-facing restraint too soon.
• Restraint not secured tight enough – the seat should not shift more than one inch side-to-side or out from the vehicle’s seat.
• Harness on the child is not tight enough – if you can pinch harness material, it’s too loose.
• Retainer clip is too high or too low – should be at the child’s armpit level.
• The child is in the wrong restraint – children must progress through the appropriate restraints as they age and grow.
• DPS reminds parents that car seats are not designed to be used with bulky winter clothing – which can lead to a loose harness fit. It is recommended to use bulky coats and blankets above the harness, not beneath.
Parents and caregivers are encouraged to learn more at the DPS website, www.buckleupkids.state.mn.us for materials including the “Buckle Up Kids” and “Don’t Skip a Step” brochures that provide detail on how to properly secure a child in a vehicle.