Idaho Transportation

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 7129
Boise, ID 83707
Fax: 208.334.8563

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 seat law?
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 older children.

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 of impact.

Q. What’s the specific problem with Idaho’s law?
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 dollars are:

• 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 ( ). 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 fatalities.

Q. Who are child safety seat technicians and what are they doing?
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 used inappropriately?
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:

  1. REAR-FACING INFANT SEATS or rear-facing convertible seats in the back seat from birth to at least age one and at least 20 pounds.
  2. FORWARD-FACING TODDLER SEATS in the back over age one to about age 4 and between 20 and 40 pounds
  3. BOOSTER SEATS in the back seat as the child exceeds the convertible seat harness weight or 40 pounds to at least age eight, unless the child is 4’9” or taller.
  4. VEHICLE SEAT BELTS when booster seats are outgrown, or at age eight or older or taller than 4’9”. All children 12 and under should ride in the back seat, and never in front of an airbag.

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 $15.

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’ exemption.

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 judged.

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.