New law: Boosters or belts for kidsWhen parents bring their children to an amusement park, the rides the children can go on are most often chosen based on the height of each child. For instance, many rides require children to be at least 48 inches tall. A new Minnesota law that went into effect Wednesday, July 1, has similar regulations. The new law, however, applies to children riding in a motor vehicle.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
When parents bring their children to an amusement park, the rides the children can go on are most often chosen based on the height of each child.
For instance, many rides require children to be at least 48 inches tall.
A new Minnesota law that went into effect Wednesday, July 1, has similar regulations. The new law, however, applies to children riding in a motor vehicle.
Under the new booster seat law, children cannot use just a seat belt by itself until they reach the age of 8 or are at least 4-feet, 9-inches tall.
Minnesota children younger than age 8 and shorter than the required 4-feet-9-inches must now be in a child safety seat or booster seat.
The purpose of the law, according to Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, is that a booster seat puts children in the position of being belted in correctly. When children are shorter than the required height, a seat belt alone may come across the child’s face or neck and not protect them properly.
“It positions them in a car like an adult,” said Wolbersen.
Prior to the new law, Wolbersen said the county hasn’t had a real problem with unrestrained children and that he feels it’s not going to be a major issue.
“Parents are most often careful with their children,” said the sheriff. “Kids are a pretty valuable asset and parents will often do what they need to do to protect them.”
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels echoed Wolbersen’s sentiment and doesn’t feel that there is a problem with unrestrained children. He said, however, that sometimes children will put a seat belt behind their neck or under their arm and by doing that, it becomes more dangerous.
Wyffels was “a little surprised” by the law, but said that the statistics could reinforce why it’s in place.
To ensure the safety of their children, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) recommends that parents keep children in a booster-style safety seat based on their height, rather than age.
DPS reports only 30 percent of Minnesota children use boosters and that in the last five years in the state, 18 children passengers – between the ages of 4 and 8 – were killed in crashes and that 3,047 children were injured.
“Boosters are common sense safety tools to ensure children are riding as safe as possible in a vehicle,” said Heather Darby, DPS child passenger safety coordinator. “Children who are shorter than 4-feet, 9-inches simply aren’t tall enough to use a seat belt alone. If they do, a belt may do more damage than good in case of a crash.”
Child passenger safety officials say the importance of boosters is underscored by death and injuries associated with poor seat belt fit, including ejection, internal decapitation and serious abdominal damage.
The law strengthens the state’s motor vehicle occupant protection laws, accompanying the primary seat belt law that went into effect June 9. Drivers and passengers must be belted or in a child restraint to avoid being stopped and ticketed.
Darby says children are not ready to ride in a seat belt alone until they can sit with their back against the vehicle seat, knees bent completely over the seat and feet touching the floor. Darby says a sign that a seat belt does not fit properly is if the child wraps the shoulder belt behind them to avoid the belt rubbing against their neck.
Darby notes that parents must be aware of the restraint steps a child should progress through as they grow: rear-facing infant seats, forward-facing toddler seats, booster seats, and seat belts; all of which are effective and necessary.
Since 1991, a majority – 86 percent – of around 35,000 children involved in crashes who were properly restrained were not injured and 13 percent sustained only minor injuries. In Minnesota, three out of every four child restraints are used incorrectly; meaning, children are riding in the wrong restraint or the restraint is not properly secured. In the last five years, 2004-2008, 44 vehicle occupants younger than age 10 were killed on Minnesota roads and 32 of the victims were not in child restraints, or the restraint was used improperly.
Parents are encouraged to visit www.buckleupkids.state.mn.us to download booster seat and child passenger safety resources.