Sat, April 04

Senate wants to 'correct flaw' in laws governing child restraints

PHOENIX -- A Senate panel voted Wednesday to expand the number of children who have to be strapped into special restraint systems when they're being driven around.

Current law already mandates special child seats or carriers for anyone younger than 5. That often takes the form of a carrier that can be hooked to a seat belt, often with the child facing backward.

Once a child turns 5, though, the only law that applies is the one which says all children younger than 18 have to be properly belted in the vehicle.

But Don Isaacson, lobbyist for State Farm Insurance Co., said simply strapping them in, the way you would an adult, actually could be dangerous.

The problem, he said, is that vehicle manufacturers design both the seats of their cars and trucks and the seat belts they install for adults. And that, said Isaacson, doesn't work for children.

"The seat belt, instead of going across chest or going across the upper thigh, where it's supposed to, goes against the neck or the head and causes brain injury, and below the chest and causes intestinal, spleen or other abdominal injury,' he said.

He said about 50,000 children who are older than 4 but too small to really fit regular seat belts are injured each year, about 400 of whom die.

SB 1050 would mandate the use of a "booster seat' for any child who is younger than 9 and is shorter than 4-feet, 9-inches tall.

"What the effect of the booster seat does is lift the child up so that the seat belt fits properly,' Isaacson said.

The big problem, said Isaacson, is that existing law mandates special seats only through age 4.

"We have said that, after age 5, you can return to a lap belt,' he said. "That tells the public that that is safe and OK, and parents believe that.'

Isaacson also argued that this is not a new government mandate.

Instead, he said, it simply "corrects' a flaw in the existing laws governing child restraints.

Violators would be subject to a $50 fine. But motorists who are ticketed can escape the penalty by providing evidence to a judge that their vehicle has since been outfitted with an acceptable child restraint system.

Isaacson said the booster seats aren't terribly expensive, putting the price tag in the $20 range.

Stuart Goodman, lobbyist for AAA Arizona, said that parents should not take the warnings about the dangers of seat belts to children as a license to instead let them bounce around unbuckled.

"Generally speaking, kids are better off in a seat belt,' he said. But Goodman said AAA believes that using regular belts for children age 5 through eight provides a "false sense of security.'

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