A new state law will send some kids back to car booster seats.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2005, will require kids who are 8 years old or younger or weigh 80 pounds or less to be in some type of child restraint. This includes booster seats.
The current law only mandates that those younger than age 5 and less than 40 pounds be restrained.
The new law can be confusing. One of the most commonly asked questions for North Carolinaâ€™s buckleupnc.org Web site is when exactly a child can be switched to a regular safety belt.
The Web site explains it like this: when a child reaches age 8 â€” regardless of weight â€” or reaches 80 pounds â€” regardless of age â€” a properly fitted seat belt may be used instead of a child restraint or booster to restrain the child.
Bill Fortenberry, with Lincoln Countyâ€™s SAFE KIDS Coalition, said the law will probably take some getting used to by both parents and children.
â€œItâ€™s going to be an adjustment, because youâ€™re looking at kids who have been out of the seat for two years,â€ Fortenberry said.
Fortenberry said one of the ways to ease that transition is to buy â€œno-backâ€ booster seats. The seats fit down into the regular car seat and make it so shoulder harnesses fit correctly. Theyâ€™re also less conspicuous for kids who might be embarrassed about riding in the seat.
â€œThe whole purpose behind a booster seat is to make the child fit the seat and to make the child fit the seat belt,â€ Fortenberry said.
When kids try to wear shoulder belts without the extra boost from the seat the belt will likely hit them in the wrong place, rendering it useless or even dangerous.
Parents who choose not to comply with the law will be ticketed. Theyâ€™ll face a $25 fine and two driver license points. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies will be enforcing the law.
In addition to police presence, the SAFE KIDS Coalition is also dedicated to making sure parents follow the rules.
If SAFE KIDS members see a child who is not restrained, theyâ€™ll take down their license plate number and send it to Raleigh. Officials there will then send a letter to the offender reminding them of the law.
Fortenberry said more important than the fines adults face is the danger that an unrestrained child is in.
Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and younger, according to SAFE KIDS. Unrestrained children are more likely to be injured, suffer severe injuries and die in motor vehicle crashes than children who are restrained.
Among children ages 14 and younger killed as occupants in motor vehicle crashes in 2002, 50 percent were not using safety restraints at the time of the collision. And inappropriately restrained children are nearly three and a half times more likely to be seriously injured in a crash than those who are correctly restrained.
Those are scary statistics when you consider how many safety seats arenâ€™t being used correctly. In Lincoln County, SAFE KIDS officials estimate that 80 to 90 percent of seats they check arenâ€™t correct. The state average is about 82 percent.
Anyone with questions about child seats can stop by one of the countyâ€™s permanent checking locations located at the Lincolnton Fire Department, East Lincoln Fire Department and the county Fire Marshalâ€™s Office.
by Alice Smith