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Tips for Parents: Kansas' new law targets safe ride for children

A new law, which requires children ages 4 through 7 riding in a motor vehicle to be in a booster seat, goes into effect July 1.

"A booster seat raises a child up so that lap and shoulder belts are positioned for safety," said Mike Bradshaw, Kansas State University Research and Extension health and safety specialist.

The Kansas Department of Transportation reports that motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of unintentional injury-related death for children up to 14 years of age in Kansas. The child safety seats in passenger cars have reduced fatal injuries by 71 percent for infants less than a year old and by 54 percent for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years old, Bradshaw said.

The new law supplements the previous law, which requires:

  • Children under the age of 1 and weighing less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing child safety seat;
  • Children ages 1, 2 and 3 must be properly restrained in a forward- facing child seat; and
  • Children ages 8 through 13 must wear a safety belt.

Children ages 4 to 7 who weigh 80 pounds or are 4 feet 9 inches tall are exempt from the booster seat requirement, but must wear a safety belt, Bradshaw said.

Booster seats should not be used with lap belts only, however, said Norraine Wingfield, traffic specialist with the Kansas Safety Belt Office. For example, if a family has an older car that does not have a lap and shoulder belt system, the lap belt should be used without a booster seat.

Recommended booster seats are designed to work with installed seat belt systems. A high-back booster seat, which provides head and neck support, is suitable for vehicles with lap and shoulder belt systems. A seat-only style (without a back) should be used only in vehicles with built-in head rests.

Booster seats are available at discount department and other retail outlets and range in price from $15 for a seat-only style to $40 and up for a high-back style, said Bradshaw who offered these tips for parents:

  • Read manufacturers' instructions (for the booster seat and also for your vehicle) for installing and using the booster seat.
  • Make sure the shoulder belt is snug across the shoulder and rests flat across the center of the collar bone. The shoulder belt should never be placed behind a child's back or under the arm.
  • The lap belt should rest low across the pelvic area on the hip bones. The lap belt should never rest on the stomach area.
  • Teach your child to buckle up and to pull up on the shoulder belt to make the lap belt tight.
  • The booster seat should accompany the child in carpools, if riding with a day' or child-care provider, or when being transported by family or friends.

Booster seats should not, however, be used with lap belts only, said Wingfield, who also cautioned parents about setting aside a booster seat for a child who reaches age 8, but has not yet reached 80 pounds or the recommended height of 4 feet 9 inches. It may be, she said, that an older child will still need a booster seat.

To test a child under the age of 13 to be sure he or she is big enough to safely wear an adult safety belt, Wingfield offered a Safety Belt Seat Test:

a. Have the child sit all the way back on the vehicle seat. Check to see if the knees bend at the seat edge. If they bend naturally, move on to the next step. If they do not, return to the booster seat.

b. Buckle the lap and shoulder belts. Be sure the lap belt lies on the upper legs or hips. If it stays there, move on to the next step. If it does not, return to the booster seat.

c. Be sure the shoulder belt lies on the shoulder or collarbone. If it lies on the shoulder, move on to the next step. If it is on the face or neck, return to the booster seat. Do not place the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the child's back.

d. Be sure your child can maintain the correct seated position for as long as you are in the car. If your child begins to slouch or shift positions so the safety belt contacts the face, neck or stomach, return your child to the booster seat until all the test steps can be met.

"Car seats vary," Wingfield said. "If a family owns more than one car - or a child rides frequently with a friend or grandparent - repeat the test to make sure he is ready to ride without a booster seat safely."

For answers to questions about the new law or about choosing or using a booster seat, Kansans can contact the Safety Belt Education Office at 1-800-416-2522.

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