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How old is old enough for a grown-up belt?

April 24, 2006|Victoria Clayton

Installation glitches and directional confusion aside, at least the nation's adults are trying to transport very young children safely. The same can't be said of older children.

In 2002 and 2003, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration sent child safety-seat experts in six states to malls, fast-food restaurants, community events, healthcare facilities and other locations to collect data on people's use, nonuse and misuse of child safety restraints.

The study, released in 2004, found that of the 5,527 children observed, 97.3% of infants and 90% of children ages 1 through 3 were in car seats.

The same study found that only 37.2% of the children ages 4 through 8 were in booster seats.

Since 2002, California has required booster seats for children who have outgrown car seats but who have not yet turned 6, or who weigh less than 60 pounds. A new bill, AB2108, introduced by Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), seeks to toughen the state's child passenger safety law. The measure, scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Transportation Committee, would require children to ride in booster seats until they are at least 8.

But booster seat requirements vary around the country, and 15 states don't have a booster seat law.

Instead of putting children in booster seats, parents often place children in regular seat belts (designed to fit an average-size adult male). As a result, the shoulder belt crosses at a child's throat or face, and the lap belt crosses at the abdomen.

Often kids simply put the ill-fitting belts behind their backs. In the event of an accident, they're then more likely to slip out or be thrown out of the belts and sustain severe or critical injuries.

Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, published in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care and elsewhere, has found that even if children remain in the seat belt during an accident they may suffer from "seat belt syndrome," which often involves serious abdominal and spinal injuries because of the improper position of the belt.

A July 2004 study by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia concluded that, for children ages 4 though 7, the use of booster seats reduces injury risk by 59%.

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-- Victoria Clayton

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