Booster seat bill awaiting governor's pen
A bill that would extend the time period that children
will be required to remain in child seats while traveling in Idaho awaits
the governor’s signature next week, the last step in the process
to become law. House Bill 178 requires that children continue to use
car safety seats through six years of age, rather than the present law
that sets the age limit at 4. Weight restrictions are removed under
the pending bill.
The purpose of the bill is to prevent further personal
injury and/or death to Idaho’s young children as they travel on
public highways and roads. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is expected to sign
the legislation next week during a special ceremony.
Following are questions and answers regarding Idaho’s
child safety restraint law:
Q. Why does Idaho need to improve its child safety
A. Although manufacturers began to offer safety restraint systems in
the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that states like Idaho began
to push for laws to protect young occupants. Idaho’s 20-year-old
child safety restraint law was the result of information available at
the time. By that time all 50 states had passed laws requiring that
small children be secured in child restraint systems when riding in
a motor vehicle.
Government, state, and local programs continue to improve
the public’s use of the safety restraints, but the original laws
generally only covered children up to age 4 and 40 pounds. Traffic crash
data collected in the intervening years shows the original laws overlooked
About half of all states, including our neighbors Nevada,
Montana and Wyoming have already moved to close these gaps in state
laws, opting to raise age and or weight standards. What we may know
intuitively has been proven with 20 years of data: all children should
be secured in age-appropriate child restraint systems.
Q. Are children really at risk?
A. Yes. Consider that motor vehicle crashes kill about 1,600 children
14 years of age and younger and injure more than 260,000 each year.
That’s an average of six children killed and more than 700 injured
each day – enough to rank motor vehicle crashes as the number-one
killer of children in the U.S. About 60 percent of children killed in
crashes each year are completely unrestrained. Statistics demonstrate
that the number of deaths and injuries could be cut in half if every
child passenger in a motor vehicle was properly restrained at the time
Q. What’s the specific problem with Idaho’s
A. Though most parents assume children should be restrained, they may
be confused because Idaho law only requires child safety seats for children
under age 4 and 40 pounds. Some drivers do not restrain children at
all; other drivers allow children 4 and over to sit in the front seat;
and some drivers use the vehicle seat belt systems instead of booster
car seats for children 4 and older. Unfortunately, children who are
too large for a child safety seat may be too small for lap and shoulder
restraints. Some restraint is better than none, but the wrong device
can also be dangerous to children.
In addition, language in the Idaho law makes it difficult
to enforce and prosecute. That’s because the standard can be interpreted
to mean that no violation can take place unless the child meets both
standards: under 4 and under 40 pounds. That effectively means that
children that are either over 4 or 40 pounds are not covered. Clearly,
lawmakers two decades ago did not intentionally mean to overlook children
over the age of 3.
Q. Does Idaho crash evidence make a case for
closing these gaps?
A. Yes. Crash data (1999-2003) for children 4-6 show that 9 children
were killed, 80 were seriously injured, and 352 had visible injuries.
Of those killed, 56 percent were not restrained at all, and of those
seriously injured, 47 percent were not restrained at all. The Office
of Highway Safety estimates Idaho would have recorded 3 fewer fatalities,
19 fewer serious injuries, and 120 fewer visible injuries had all these
children been restrained in child safety restraints.
In addition, using Federal Highway Administration allocators
for the costs of fatal and injury crashes, the estimated price tag of
these collisions would be reduced an average of $4.3 million each year
from a total average annual total loss of $18.8 million. The total cost
of these injury and crashes would be reduced nearly $7 million over
the five-year period!
Studies suggest that children who have outgrown car seats
and who are restrained by adult seat belts alone are four times more
likely to suffer serious head injuries. Young children using only seat
belts are at risk of injuries to the abdomen and spine, as well. The
more serious the injury, the costlier it is.
Q. How are these costs calculated?
A. The U.S. Department of Transportation funded research to study the
comprehensive costs of highway crashes. The results are published in
the U.S. DOT Publication NO. FHWA-RD-91-055. The 11 components identified
are: property damage, lost earnings, lost household production, medical
costs, emergency services, travel delay, vocational rehabilitation,
workplace costs, administrative costs, legal costs, and pain and lost
quality of life. These costs are updated annually to reflect inflation.
The costs of each injury type updated to represent 2003
• Each fatality $3,129,653
• Each serious injury $ 216,660
• Each visible injury $ 43,334
• Each possible injury $ 22,871
Q. Who pays for all these costs?
A. Unfortunately, we all do. Nearly 74 percent of the comprehensive
costs is paid by the general public through insurance premiums, taxes,
direct out-of-pocket payments for goods and services and increased charges
for medical care. Society at large picks up over 85 percent of all medical
costs. All Idahoans end up paying for these costly and deadly crashes.
Q. What else is being done to educate parents
about age-appropriate child restraint systems?
A. Throughout Idaho, the seven public health districts, Safe Kids Coalitions,
AAA, law enforcement, fire departments, EMS, hospitals, retailers and
other safety advocates are hosting community car seat check up events
to help parents and caregivers learn about the correct age-appropriate
child restraints they need for their children. Through the WIC program
at the health departments, the Headstart program, child care education,
religious organization health fairs and other community meetings, handouts
are distributed and classes are taught which display and describe the
various ages and weights of children and car seats needed.
ITD’s Office of Traffic and Highway Safety developed
a Child Passenger Safety website, which contains the latest information
and access to a list of 100 child safety seat checkup sites throughout
the state. OTHS also produces and disseminates public education materials
statewide through hospitals, health care providers, law enforcement
and educators. In addition, OTHS funds an annual media campaign in February
in conjunction with Child Passenger Safety Awareness Week, focusing
on the need for age-appropriate restraints. The campaigns for 2003-2005
have included radio, television and billboard advertising.
Handouts also contain information that directs parents
to Web site's for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
) and National Safe Kids ( www.safekids.org
). These and other Web sites include information and photos of age-appropriate
child restraint systems.
Q. Is law enforcement looking for another way
to ticket motorists?
A. No. Law enforcement officers have plenty of laws to enforce. Law
enforcement officers are committed to saving lives and reducing serious
injuries resulting in additional and unnecessary societal costs. They
enforce safety restraint laws to help protect adults and children in
traffic crashes. Many officers donate their time to educate Idahoans
about the child restraint law because they hope to reduce needless childhood
Q. Who are child safety seat technicians and what are
A. Certified Child Safety Seat Technicians are volunteers or parents
who have taken the next step to become safety advocates by investing
32 hours in classes where they learn how to correctly use and install
child safety restraint systems. Their job is to teach other parents
to do the same. Quite often, they represent law enforcement, fire departments,
EMS, hospitals, and other organizations like AAA. They volunteer their
time at community car seat checkups or at their places of business.
OTHS and the Public Health Districts have worked together
for the past 5 years to establish permanent child safety check sites
and to train Nationally Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians.
There are currently 300 technicians and 100 sites in Idaho.
Q. How many child restraint systems are being
A. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates
that 80% of child restraints are incorrectly installed in vehicles.
When inspected, many seats have two or more errors. Beyond incorrect
installation and nonuse, three dangerous problems are quite common in
Idaho: 1) Infants are turned, facing forward, before they turn one year
of age; 2) Children are graduated to booster seats too soon; and 3)
Small children are riding in the front seat in cars equipped with airbags.
Q. Are there nationally recommended standards for seat positioning
and restraint type based on the age and weight of children?
A. Yes, nationally recommended standards from NHTSA include cover four
stages for effective restraint use for children:
Q. How much do booster seats cost? Is there any
assistance available to low-income families?
A. There are two types of booster seats on the market. The high-back
version retails for about $40; the low-back version retails for about
Q. What’s the status with Section 402 and Section 157
funds? How are they affected by passage of a new law?
A. Section 402 funds will continue to be awarded to Idaho. The level
of funding is based on population and miles traveled. Section 157 funds
have been a primary funding source for Idaho’s statewide seat
belt mobilizations. But this funding will not be part of the new national
transportation reauthorization. Section 157 will be replaced by Section
405 funds. Idaho currently does not qualify for Section 505 funding,
because 1) Idaho has a secondary seat belt law; 2) Idaho’s $10
fine for seat belt violations does not meet the minimum criteria, and
3) Idaho’s child restraint law includes a ‘nursing baby’
There may be additional funding in the new authorization
for states that enact booster seat laws or that change restraint laws
based on the above criteria.
Q. Who supports changes to the existing law?
A: Law enforcement, hospitals, health-care providers, insurance companies,
and other safety organizations support changes. By a wide margin, Idaho
citizens favor raising the standards in Idaho. A December 2003 survey
of 403 registered voters commissioned by AAA Idaho and conducted by
the Moore Information Group in Portland found shows more than two-to-one
support for raising the state’s child safety restraint standards.
Currently, only children under age 4 and weighing less than 40 pounds
are required to be restrained in child safety restraints. Sixty-two
(62) percent of the respondents said they favor (just 30% oppose) raising
the standard to 6 years and 60 pounds.
Q. What is FMVSS 213 and what does it have to
do with this legislation?
A. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 is the standard established
by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) through
the Department of Transportation, whose purpose is to define, test and
apply uniform applicability of safety restraint systems. Its purpose
is to identify standards for age appropriate restraints, to provide
the basis for which manufacturers may test the applicability of their
products and to identify minimum standards by which systems will be
The rule is the basis of many state laws. In the case
of HB 178, Idaho’s proposed standard falls within the guidelines
for age-appropriate devices. The rule recommends that age-appropriate
booster seats, for instance, protect children to a standard up to 8
years and 80 pounds. It identifies characteristics for dynamic performance
and testing based on specific parameters.