Until Jan. 1, Florida had the weakest child passenger safety law in the country: Children were required to ride in a car seat or booster seat only through age 3. Now, thanks to the new law, drivers are required to use a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint seat for children until age 6. I thank the legislators that voted for this change, since so many kids die on the road.
It is the responsibility of the adult to ensure that any child under 7 is properly secured. Failure to do so could result in a $60 fine and 3 points against your driver’s license.
It has been recommended by the AAA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that children who have outgrown their car seats ride in a booster seat until they reach 4 feet, 9 inches tall. That’s typically between the ages of 8 and 12. Without a booster seat, seat belts cross over a child’s stomach and can lead to serious injuries. Booster seats can reduce the risk of injury by 45 percent, compared to using a seat belt, according to a study published in Pediatrics. To ensure that your child is protected with the right seat, follow these guidelines.
Rear-Facing Seat — Birth until age 2 or when child reaches the upper height or weight limit of seat (typically around 35 pounds).
Forward-Facing Seat — Your child should have a forward-facing seat with a harness until he or she reaches the manufacturer’s upper height or weight limit of the seat (typically 40-65 pounds).
Belt-Positioning Booster Seat — Protect your child with this seat until he or she is at least 4’9’’ (typically 8-12 years of age). Proper positioning of your car’s safety belt system is crucial in preventing or minimizing injury in case of a crash.
Lap and Shoulder Belts — Be sure the lap belt lies across the hips and the shoulder belt across the center of the shoulder and chest. Your child’s legs should bend comfortably at the seat’s edge, with his or her back resting flat against the back of the seat. Once the safety belt fits properly without a booster, your child no longer needs a special seat. Use a booster seat in the back seat until your child is big enough to use the car’s seat belt.
At 13 years old, your child can sit in the front seat of your car, but it’s best if they sit in the back seat, especially if they are small and thin.
For more information, please check out the Florida HSMV's safety brochure on child safety seats (http://www.flhsmv.gov/fhp/CPS/CSSB.pdf). Never put your child in a child car seat in the front of a vehicle with a passenger air bag.
Seat Belt Laws in Florida
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) requires you to wear a seat belt while in an operating vehicle if you are: the driver of the vehicle, a front seat passenger of any age and under 18 years of age. Failure to wear a seat belt could result in a fine of $30 plus any other associated legal fees.
Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.