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Friday, February 12, 2010
New Child Protection Seat Law Takes Effect in New York
On November 24th, a new law went into effect in New York that requires that all children under the age of 8 to be restrained in an appropriate child restraint system. This means that children under the age of 8 must be seated in an appropriate booster seat that allows the seat belt system to fit properly. This law is in response to several studies that showed that children were graduating to seat belts too early once they outgrew their child safety seats.
A study conducted in 2002 by State Farm Insurance and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia showed that 83% of children are graduating from child safety seats to adult seat belts too early. The problem lies in the different ways that seat belts fit around an adult's body compared to the way they fit around a child. When properly belted in, the seat belt should fit low over a vehicle occupant's hips. In a crash, the belt will provide restraint by pushing back against the relatively hard surface of the occupant's hip bones. If the belt were to sit higher across the soft tissue of the occupant's abdomen, it could cause significant damage to internal organs and could, in severe crashes, actually cut into the occupant's abdomen. Seat belts on children, with their small frames, tend to ride high over the child’s abdomen. The 2002 study refers to this as the "Seat Belt Syndrome" in children. The seat belt syndrome has contributed to abdominal and spinal injuries in children. The studies found that children between the ages of 3 and 9 were at greatest risk of seat belt syndrome. The problem is compounded by the way shoulder harnesses fit over children. Instead of sitting properly over a child's shoulder, the shoulder harness tends to ride across their neck and rub against their face causing many to place the shoulder harness behind them.
The answer to this problem is quite simple but, for some reason, the word has been slow in getting around. Booster seats raise the child's body to a position that allows the seat belt to ride low over their hips the way they are designed. Booster seats can also help to properly position the shoulder harness so that it provides maximum protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics published guidelines that say children should remain in booster seats until they are 4'9" in height or, on average, from 9 to 11 years of age. Their website also has guidelines on the proper use of child restraints from infants to teens.
In spite of campaigns by the insurance industry and guidance from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are only 21 states, including New York, that have passed child restraint laws in compliance with federal guidelines. Many states have no requirement for child restraint systems beyond the age of 4.
When considering a booster seat for your child, remember that all booster seats are not created equally. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted crash tests and published a list of the best and worst booster seats that are currently on the market. The IIHS website also has pictures showing how lap belts and shoulder harnesses should fit to provide maximum protection. The best seats provide proper height adjustment for the lap belt and keep the shoulder harness away from the abdomen and over the shoulder where they belong.
For more information on proper placement and fitting of child safety seats, visit www.nysdmv.com. You can also visit www.safeny.com to find a child safety seat event or a list of permanent seat fitting stations. There are also online courses now available to educate drivers on the rules of the road and the latest defensive driving techniques.