Florida Revamps Child Safety Restraint Law

There is very little that will cause as much heartache to a parent as seeing his or her child hurt. When a child sustains an injury as the result of a traffic accident that occurs while the parent is driving, the guilt can be overwhelming. Even if the parent is not at fault in the accident, second-guessing whether or not there was something that he or she could have done to have avoided injury to the child or children can be distressing.

Regrettably, one estimate states that there are roughly 650 children killed every year in car accidents and almost 150,000 others who sustain injuries. Other research indicates that fatalities among children due to motor vehicle accidents is more than twice that amount at 1,500, with injuries as high as 175,000 annually. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, by late December, 2014, five children had been killed and 145 had suffered injuries on Florida highways. These startling statistics have caused tremendous concern among several national organizations which have put into place various initiatives to promote child restraint systems. The suggestions of these various agencies may vary, but the goal is the same – to reduce injuries and deaths among children involved in car accidents.

The Florida locations of one national agency are providing parents with free booster seats. These seats are available for children between the ages of four to eight years old who weigh 30 lbs to 110 lbs and who range in height from 3 ft., 4 ins. to 4 ft., 9 ins. tall. The program is intended to help the parents of children who meet these requirements. Although you need not be a member of the agency to benefit from the program, the quantity of booster seats available is limited. Consequently, these booster seats are provided to parents as they are requested while they are still available. Contact your local law enforcement to find out which agencies offer such programs.

The purpose of this program is to help parents meet the new safety requirements that were implemented as the result of a recent change to Florida’s child restraint law. Previously, Florida law stated that children age three and under must be in a child safety seat, yet it permitted children who were four- and five-years-old to be restrained solely by a seatbelt. Effective January 1, 2015, however, children who are age five or under are required to be in either a child safety seat (car seat) or a booster seat.

Which of these two safety devices should be used is dependent upon the height and weight of the child. Once the child exceeds the manufacturer’s size recommendation for a car seat, he or she then is required to use a booster seat. There are a few circumstances which allow for exemption of this requirement. A four- or five-year-old can use only a seatbelt when the driver is not a close family member, if there exists a documented medical reason that the child cannot be in a booster seat, or if there is an emergency, but there is no booster seat available for the child.

One national agency that monitors and promotes child safety restraints is the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC).

According to the CDC, the use of a booster seat can minimize the risk of injury to children ages four through eight by as much as 45 percent. Consequently, the CDC makes the following suggestions as to when and how to use car seats and booster seats, as proposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

    • Rear-facing car seats are designed for children age 2 years or younger or until they exceed the height/weight limitations for the car seat.

 

    • Front-facing car seats are intended for children 2 through at least 5 years of age. Again, the CDC suggests that the child remain in a front-facing car seat until they reach the height/weight limit of the car seat, as advised by the manufacturer of the car seat.

 

  • Booster seats are only endorsed for children age 5 or greater who have surpassed the height/weight limit advised for the forward-facing car seat, but who have not yet reached the height of 57″ which is the height for seatbelt use alone.

(Although these standards are advocated by the CDC, laws governing child safety restraints vary from state to state.)

Even among those parents who use car seats and booster seats for their children, there are still many injuries to children that occur through improper use of these safety devices. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that four out of five car seats or booster seats are installed improperly. This, in conjunction with not using a height/weight appropriate child restraint, could be a contributing factor to car accidents being the number one cause of death among children between the ages of 2 to 14.

In addition to the weight, height, and age standards for having a child in a car restraint, remember that to be in a just a seatbelt, the child should be able to sit all the way back in the seat while having his or her legs bend at the knee over the edge of the seat. Also, the lap belt should lay across the child’s lap, not stomach, and the shoulder strap should cross the child’s chest, not throat.

“Safety belts save lives, but only when used and used correctly,” said Terry Rhodes, executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “Booster seats help elevate children to the height at which the safety belt will properly secure them.”

Once a child is big enough to use just a seatbelt, remember to always put children 12 and under in the back seat where they are not sitting in front of an airbag. It is also important to keep in mind that if you only have one child, buckling him or her in the middle of the back seat is the safest position for them should you have a car crash.

The same is true for making sure your child has not outgrown the car seat. If you are buying bigger clothes for your child or notice other indicators that the child is growing, then it is a safe bet that you may need to monitor the ‘fit’ of the car restraint. Failing to have your child properly secured in a motor vehicle can result in a $60 fine, court costs, and three points being assessed against your driver’s license. Although the fine and court cost may seem manageable, this can get to be quite costly when you factor in the cost those points will add to your car insurance rates.