Child-safety bills gain in Senate

Need for car seats, helmets targeted

March 10, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Measures to improve children's safety in cars and on in-line skates and scooters took major steps forward in the Maryland Senate yesterday.

If approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, parents across Maryland would have to strap children into car safety seats until age 8, and children younger than 16 would be required to wear helmets when on in-line skates or scooters.

"This was a good day for children's safety," said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a Montgomery County Democrat and sponsor of the car safety seat proposal. "This really is important to protect our kids."

The full Senate approved the bill to require that children ride in car safety seats until they reach the age of 8 or weigh 80 pounds. The current standard is age 4 or 40 pounds.

"This is not asking for a new law, it's to change an existing law that is giving parents incorrect information," said Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat and sponsor of a companion bill in the House.

"The flaw in the current law is that when children reach age 4, we tell parents it's OK to put them into adult seat belts, when they're really too small," Bronrott said.

Maryland would become the third state in the country to impose such a requirement, joining Washington and California.

The measure - supported by major automobile safety groups, health organizations and the Maryland State Police - would give state officials a year to publicize the new requirements. Parents would then have a 6-month grace period in which police would issue only warnings.

Tickets could be issued beginning April 1, 2003, though judges could waive fines if parents bought safety seats before their court dates.

Child-safety experts say booster seats help seat belts properly fit children between the ages of 4 and 8, ensuring that they aren't ejected from cars or badly hurt by the adult-size belts during accidents.

Also yesterday, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee narrowly approved a measure to require in-line skaters under the age of 16 to wear helmets. The committee added a last-minute amendment to impose the same requirement on children riding scooters.

"If we're really concerned about children's safety, then adding in scooters was an important step," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who proposed the scooter amendment. "I think children have the same risk of head injury on scooters as they do on in-line skates."

The bill - sponsored by Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat - had been pushed by a group of high school students from Reisterstown's Hannah More School.

The students lost a friend to an in-line skating accident in 1998, and for the past two years they've come to Annapolis to skate around the State House and demonstrate the importance of helmets. Maryland now requires children to wear helmets while riding bicycles.

The full Senate is expected to take up the proposal next week, where its prospects are uncertain.

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