Originally created 07/13/01

Enforcement not detailed



South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges was politically smart to end his pet program, the "Click-it or Ticket" campaign, which gave police the power to ticket drivers solely on the basis of not having their seat belts fastened.

In most places, that kind of thing is a secondary offense, and the governor's ticketing program was heavy-handed at best. The practice of essentially setting up roadblocks to check people's seat belts turned into a cash cow for the state, and was widely resented by the populace.

Hodges didn't use his head, however, in approving a South Carolina bill requiring children up to 5 years old to be in a car booster seat. The new law pertaining to children mandates:

Infants and babies to age 1, or who weigh less than 20 pounds, must be in an infant seat.

Children from ages 1-5, or who weigh 20-39 pounds will be required to ride in a convertible, face-forward seat.

Kids that age weighing between 40-80 pounds will need to ride in a face-forward booster seat.

While it's understandable that South Carolina should ensure safety of its youngest citizens who cannot make safety decisions for themselves, part of this legislation will be awkward to enforce.

Will state patrol officers feel compelled to take scales with them so they can weigh the children in question? Will parents lie about their kids' ages and weights? What will happen to visitors here for tourism or just passing through who didn't happen to bring the booster seats?

We can just see Officer Friendly making a kid get out of the car and stand on a scale by the roadside to make sure the youngster's weight corresponds with his seat restraint.

All states now have car infant-seat regulations, but as children outgrow them, the states are all over the map on safety rules. Just three have the same rules as South Carolina, and none of those states is in the Southeast.

In fact, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, recognizing the enforcement difficulty, just vetoed a similar measure. It's not that he doesn't care about child safety, but he is obviously concerned about how the state would enforce such laws.

South Carolina has decided how it will enforce it: County by county, each jurisdiction will have its own set of rules. In Lexington, the sheriff is giving people a 30-day grace period to get the seats. Over in Richland County, they're setting up a program that allows parents time, after they are ticketed, to get a booster seat, present proof to the magistrate, and possibly have the $25 fine dismissed.

In this case, education makes a lot more sense than legislation. Sadly, some lawmakers feel they just haven't done their jobs unless they pass yet another law.