For several years, Florida has been the most dangerous state for children between the ages of 4 and 10 traveling in vehicles. Florida is currently one of only two states in the nation that lacks a booster seat bill for older children – and the only state that allows 4-year-olds to ride in an adult seatbelt.
Booster seats are needed for the simple reason that seat belts are designed to fit adults – specifically the “average” adult male. When a child under age 8 (on average) or under 4’ 9” tall and 80 pounds sits in an adult seatbelt, the lap belt tends to ride up onto his or her stomach. In a crash the belt tightens to keep the child from being ejected. It cuts through the soft stomach and the first bone to stop it is the spinal cord. This is known as “seat belt syndrome”. It can cause severe injuries including internal bleeding and even paralysis. A booster seat “boosts” the child up about six inches so the belt fits below the stomach and can restrain the child properly without causing injury. Using a booster seat reduces your child’s risk of injury by about 60%.
In Florida, some kids are about to get a safety “boost”. The Florida House and Senate just passed the revisions to Florida Statute 316.613 with Bill 225. If signed by Governor Scott, the new regulations will take effect on January 1, 2015. The new law will require children aged 4 through 5 years old to travel in a car seat or booster, NOT an adult seat belt. Unpaid drivers who are not in the child’s immediate family, children being transported for medical emergencies and children with a medical condition necessitating an exception are exempt from the law.
While this law by no means provides adequate protection for Florida’s older children, it is at least a step in the right direction. By a slim margin, Florida will no longer be the most unsafe state in the nation for child passengers.