Safety seats bill is passed

Booster required for those younger than 6 years old

`Ensure kids can be kids'

Seat belt inadequate to protect children from crash injuries

April 06, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The General Assembly gave final approval yesterday to legislation requiring children younger than the age of 6 to be strapped into safety seats while riding in a car or other vehicle.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to sign the bill, which would make Maryland the ninth state in the country to enact such a law.

"This is a huge step forward for children's safety and helps remove a very serious gap in Maryland's child safety law," said Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill.

"It will help ensure that kids can be kids and not memories," Bronrott said.

Under Maryland law, children younger than 4 must be secured in car safety seats. The legislation unanimously approved by the Senate yesterday would extend that requirement to children under the age of 6 years. The car seats used for children older than 4 are typically called "booster" seats.

The new law, which would take effect in October 2003, would apply only to vehicles registered in Maryland, not to out-of-state travelers passing through. Violators could be fined $25.

Citing statistics showing children not restrained by booster seats are 3 1/2 times more likely to be injured or killed in an automobile accident, child-safety advocates are conducting a nationwide campaign to make use of the seats mandatory.

"It should be obvious that a child cannot fit into a seat belt made for a 175-pound male," said Janette E. Fennell, executive director of KIDS 'N CARS, a San Francisco-based child safety group.

Child welfare advocates say children too big for "infant" car seats but too small for seatbelts have been neglected for decades by parents, automobile manufactures and legislators.

"The age group is often referred to as the forgotten child," said Jacqueline S. Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

About 2,400 children were killed in automobile accidents in 2000, making such accidents the leading cause of death for children younger than 14.

"Seat belts depend on a person's bone structure to operate properly, spreading the forces of a crash over the hips, shoulders and chest. ... Correct seat belt fit is not usually achieved until a child is 9 years old," Carol J. Carmody, vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, told a House of Delegates committee last month in support of the bill.

Booster seats, which start at $20, elevate children to better secure seat belts to their bodies. The NTSB was one of a dozen groups that lobbied legislators to pass the proposal.

There was no organized opposition to the bill, although some Republicans and conservative Democrats voted against it, saying they didn't think the state should be telling parents how to keep their children safe.

Arkansas, California, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Washington state have booster seat laws. The Virginia legislature also passed a bill this spring requiring booster seats. It is awaiting Gov. Mark R. Warner's signature.

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