In December 2008, a five year old boy was critically injured while riding in the backseat of his mother’s car as she was driving on Interstate 95, just outside of Washington, D.C. The boy was choked by the seat belt, which had become wrapped around his neck. The mother stopped and called 911 when she discovered something was wrong. A state trooper was the first to arrive. He cut the seat belt off with a knife and started CPR on the child. Fire and rescue took over resuscitation and the child’s heart started beating again in route to the hospital.
The boy was neither in a car seat nor on a booster seat. In Maryland, where the boy’s family lived, state law requires that children ages 7 and under must be properly restrained in an appropriate child safety seat, unless they weigh more than 65 pounds or are 4′ 9″ or taller. The child’s weight and height were not disclosed. Even then, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 4 out of 5 parents make mistakes when seat-belting their children, whether in a child seat, booster seat, or standard shoulder/lap belt system.
SEAT BELT LAWS
There are two types of seat belt laws, primary, where you can be stopped and cited if you are not wearing a seat belt, and secondary, where you can only be cited for lack of seat belt use if you were stopped for some other offense. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have seat belt laws, however, at this time, New Hampshire is the only state that does not have a mandatory requirement for adults to wear seat belts; children 18 and under are required to use the belts.
Furthermore, when it comes to children up to 8 years of age, only 18 states and the District of Columbia require the use of child restraint systems and boosters seats. At SafeKids.org, you can find the seat belt law for your state.
BIG KIDS – BOOSTER SEATS
When a child is too big for a conventional front-facing child safety seat, or about the age of 4, they need to use a booster seat. The booster seat raises the child up so the seat belt straps fall in the proper position. They should continue to use the booster seat until at least 10 years of age. To determine when your child can go without the booster seat, do this simple tests:
Belt the child in with a shoulder and lap strap system. If the shoulder strap touches between the neck and arm, and the lap belt is low, touching the thighs, with the child’s back against the seat and knees bent over the edge of the seat, then your big kid can go without a booster seat. With or without a booster seat, continue to have the child sit in the back seat where it’s safer in the event of an accident.
Most kids like the booster seat for the obvious reason that it raises them up, making it easier to see out the window. Booster seats are available in high back or backless styles. Remember that seat belts are safety devices designed to be used in a specific fashion – one person per seat belt. Also, do not allow passengers, particularly children, to place the shoulder strap under their arm.
At NTSB, you can find guidance on installing a booster seat. They also offer a list of car and booster seats by manufacturer, price, and usage (height and weight of child) to help you choose how to keep your child safe.