Law has improved for child passengers

Posted By | February 11, 2002 12:00 am

Kim Swindell Wood
A new law approved last fall by the General Assembly strengthens Tennessee’s child restraint law by requiring increased protection for young passengers.
The law requires children between the ages of 4 and 8, and who weigh less than 40 pounds, to be in an integrated child seat or belt positioning booster seat. Previous law required children 3 and under be in approved child restraint devices, and that children ages 4-17 be in seat belts no matter where they were sitting in the vehicle. However, the previous law did not give consideration to the child’s weight and whether they were large enough to fit properly under a regular safety belt.
“It just takes discipline to teach a child to stay in a car seat,” said Tennessee State Trooper R.C. Christian.
According to Christian, who has three children under the age of seven, child restraint devices have not changed that much since the one he used with his first child. Christian and his wife, Michelle, have been able to utilize the same car seat for 19-month-old Mallory as they did with their last child. Christian said, “We just bought a new cover and I added a little extra padding on the bottom to make it more comfortable.”
However, Christian emphasized the general design of child restraint devices should not be altered. They are required to meet safety standards for protection and they should be properly used as explained in the instructions which come with the device.
Tennessee became the first state in the nation in 1978 to enact a child restraint. The new law strengthens the requirements by providing a guideline for parents and caregivers based on size as well as age.
In addition to the booster seat requirement, the new law amends Tennessee’s child passenger protection law by allowing a mother to remove a child under age 4 from a child restraint device only when the mother is nursing the child. Previously, a parent could remove a child from a restraint device to take care of physiological needs other than nursing.
Child Passenger Protection Laws
o Since 1985, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories have child passenger safety laws in effect, compared with 1979, when only Tennessee had such a law.
o Seat belt use laws for the general public are in place in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories.
Lives lost
o In 1996, 653 children four years of age and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes. Of these deaths, 52 percent were unrestrained.
Injuries prevented and lives saved
o In 1996, it is estimated that 365 children under age 5 were saved
as a result of child restraint use.
o In 1996, 100 percent use of child safety seats could have prevented
approximately 560 deaths.
o From 1982 through 1996, 3,299 children, age 4 and under, were saved as a result of child restraint use.
Child Safety Seat Effectiveness
o When used correctly, child safety seats are:
o 71 percent effective in reducing fatalities; 67 percent effective in reducing the need for hospitalization; and 50 percent effective in preventing minor injuries.
Correct use of child safety seats
o To be effective, a child safety seat must be used correctly. Read and follow the instructions that come with the safety seat carefully. Read the vehicle owner’s manual for installation instructions. Try the seat in your car to make sure it does not easily move side-to-side or forward and down.
o The back seat is the safest place for children of any age to ride. Infants in rear-facing child safety seats should NEVER ride in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag.
o Infants must always ride facing the rear of the car.
o Make sure everyone is buckled up. Unbuckled occupants can be hurt or killed by an air bag.
Is it Okay to Use a Used Child Safety Seat?
o Some used seats may have no safety problems, especially if they are fairly new and have had only one user. However, any used seat may have multiple problems and must be checked carefully before use.
Questions to ask
(Q) Has the seat been in a crash?
(A) If so, it should not be used again, and should be destroyed. Possible unseen damage may make it less effective in a second crash.
(Q) Does it have a label stating that it meets all Federal safety standards and a sticker with the manufacture date (after 11/1/81) and model number?
(A) Without these, you cannot be sure if it has ever been recalled. Most child passenger safety educators advise against using a child safety seat that is more than 10 years old. There have been many improvements in ease of use during that time. Older seats may have suffered from exposure to heat, sunlight, or severe cold over the years. It is impossible to know the effect of this exposure.
(Q) Does the child safety seat have all its parts and its instruction booklet?
(A) The label instructions may not be complete or adequate.
(Q) What is its general condition and structural integrity?
(A)Inspect the frame, shell, and harness straps. It is possible to replace pads and straps.
(Q) Has it been recalled?
(A) You need the model number and date of manufacture for this. You can find recall information by calling NHTSA Auto Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9393.
(Editor’s note: statistical information provided by Tennessee Dept. of Safety)

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