Raising age for booster seats would save lives, experts say

LAWMAKERS AMEND VEHICLE SAFETY
Sara Simmons loads her daughters Anabelle, 2, Samantha (center), 8, and Juliana, 6, into the family van. The Georgia Legislature has passed bills that would raise the age that children can stop using car seats or boosters from 6 to 8.

Sara Simmons straps her youngest daughter Anabelle, 2, into a car safety seat whenever she drives the family's van. Her middle daughter, Juliana, 6, doesn't use one, though. She sits in a booster seat only occasionally.

"She's over 50 pounds," said Simmons, a Martinez resident. "But, if they've done studies and found she needs it, I would definitely use one. Whatever would keep her safe."

Last week, the Georgia Senate voted to raise the age for when children can stop using car safety seats or boosters -- from 6 years old to 8.

That means Juliana and all other 6- and 7-year-olds would have to move into booster seats when they outgrew their car seats. A companion bill passed in the House, so the measure is close to becoming law.

Local car seat technician and instructor Rene Hopkins said the new rule would save lives.

"A lot of parents, not knowing what to ask about car seats, will look to the law for what to do," said Hopkins, the director of Safe Kids East Central, led by the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center.

Under current law, children must use child car seats until they turn 6 unless they weigh 40 pounds or more.

That has brought automobile injuries down for children 5 and younger, Hopkins said. Children in the 6- to 10-year-old range have not seen an improvement at all, however.

"We're seeing kids with spinal injuries and chest crush injuries," she said.

Kids need to be in a car seat or booster seat until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall, the size of a small adult, Hopkins said.

That's because a seat belt's shoulder strap doesn't fit a smaller person properly, said Nate Moorman, an injury control coordinator for the Richmond County Health Department.

"The lap belt should lie across the pelvis, not the stomach. The shoulder strap should go across the clavicle, so the belt holds onto the bone in case of a crash," Moorman said.

The Senate bill would exempt children 7 and younger who have grown taller than 4-foot-9.

It would also exempt children weighing 40 pounds or more in cases when the child must sit in a seat that has a lap belt, but not a shoulder strap. That's because some car seats are rated to hold a child only as heavy as 40 pounds, and a booster seat is not safe when only a lap belt is used, Hopkins said.

"A booster seat elevates the child's center of gravity. Without a shoulder strap it would make the head and chest thrust forward even more," she said.

WHICH CAR SEAT keeps your child safe? Get National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommendations at: www.nhtsa.gov/Safety/CPS