Kids under 8 must use car booster seats starting Sunday

12/27/2011 12:00 AM

12/26/2011 10:49 PM

A new state law requiring children younger than 8 to use car booster seats will become effective Sunday.

Children younger than 8 also must be properly buckled into a car seat or booster seat, and in the back seat, according to a news release from the California Office of Traffic Safety.

In addition, children 8 and older who are not tall enough for the seat belt to fit properly must ride in a booster seat or car seat. Previously, the law required that children remain in a booster seat until age 6 or until they weighed 60 pounds.

The law change comes after several years of political debate. Safety officials hail it as critical catch-up moment for California.

"It's been national practice for several years now," said Jennifer Rubin, an instructor with the Cosumnes Fire Department. "Normally, California is a trendsetter, but we were pretty far behind."

Safety officials say the law is needed because most 6- and 7-year-olds are still too small to fit safely in adult seat belts.

"If they are too little, the seat belt can ride up on their belly and neck, and can injure internal organs in a crash," Rubin said.

California Office of Traffic Safety head Chris Murphy estimated the new law affects more than a million children statewide. "Keeping them in booster seats increases their chance of surviving a crash by 45 percent," he said.

The special seat "boosts" the child up to make the adult-size belt safely fit a child-size body. If the belt crosses the child's stomach instead of the hip bones, the child can be severely injured by the belt itself if involved in a collision, officials said.

Most children affected by the new law can remain in the booster seat they already have. If a new one is needed, low-back boosters can be purchased at major retailers for $15 to $20 each, according to the news release.

Violating the law carries a hefty fine.

For each child younger than 16 who is not properly secured, parents – if they are in the car – or the driver can be ticketed for more than $475 and receive a violation point on their driving record.

According to the Office of Traffic Safety, children fit an adult seat belt when:

They can sit against the vehicle seat back with their knees bent without slouching and can comfortably stay in this position throughout the trip.

The lap belt is low on the hips, touching the upper thighs.

The shoulder belt crosses the chest, but is not on the face or neck.

Officials stress that children should never be allowed to put the shoulder belt behind their arm or back.

In a crash, the youngster could sustain major injuries, including head and spinal cord injuries. If children are putting the shoulder belt behind them, this is a sign that they still need a booster seat.

For more information about car seats, the new law or help in determining whether a child still needs a booster seat, call the local public health department, or go to: www.cdph.ca.gov/vosp or www.ots.ca.gov/Child_Passenger_Safety.asp

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