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The Informed Parent

Buckle Up For Safety

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jul. 01, 2002

Summertime finds more families on the road vacationing and taking day trips. As parents prepare for these excursions, it’s a good time to review current seat belt and safety seat regulations. Keeping our children protected when they are riding in cars makes common sense. It is also the law. Common sense and the law do not seem to dissuade some parents from allowing their youngsters to roam freely in the back seat, to sit in the front seat, or to sit on the laps of adults or older siblings. A look at the law can assist such parents to become more responsible and effective.

January 1, 2002 saw the implementation of a new and more stringent safety seat law in California. Other states have also passed legislation increasing passenger safety for children. In California, all child passengers under six years of age or under 60 pounds
are required to be in approved safety or booster seats. Unfortunately, not all safety seats on the market are approved for keeping your child safe. Look for the label that indicates whether the safety seat you purchase meets the 2002 safety seat standards.

The 2002 standards mean that some older children will need to sit in booster seats. While most children reach the weight of 60 pounds by about six years of age some will need to wait until they are seven or eight. At this age there will be strong resistance being restrained in a booster seat. Show them the law and discuss it. (http:/ They may not feel better, but it allows them the opportunity to see that this is not a rule you are imposing. You are simply complying with a state law.

A further guideline for booster seat use includes height. A child must be able to sit with his or her back straight against the seatback with knees bent over the seat edge without slouching.

Sitting in the back seat of a vehicle is safer than sitting in the front. Passenger side air bags pose added risk to small front seat passengers. Children under the age of 12 should ride properly restrained in the back seat.

When a child meets the size requirements to move out of a booster seat and into a seat belt, make sure that the lap belt fits low and tight to avoid abdominal injuries in case of a crash. Do not put the shoulder belt behind the child’s arm or back. That eliminates upper body protection. To provide their intended protection and to eliminate injury, seat belts must be worn properly.

Children want to look out the window while they are riding. As well as keeping the trip interesting, children learn when we point out special sights or when they watch for particular things. If a child is not tall enough to see out the window when sitting flat on the seat of the car a booster seat is still needed. Do not assist a child to sit higher by allowing him or her to sit on pillows, folded towels or blankets, or books. These can slide and the child will not be kept safe should a collision occur.

Booster seats and seat belts only provide optimal safety when they are properly used and installed. Before installing a booster seat, be sure to read the instructions in the installation manual and in your vehicle owner’s manual.

These guidelines sound stringent, and they are. Parents may find them difficult to adhere to, especially when their children complain. Being an effective parent is not easy. Following the law is not always easy. To be an effective parent and a law abiding citizen, using booster seats and seat belts properly provides the greatest assurance that your family car trips will be safe, as well as enjoyable.

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