Children regardless of age may still need booster seats

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Sierra, my nine year old daughter loves to let me know that she is growing and getting taller every day (as if I couldn't tell!) She is now a whopping 59 pounds and 4'5" tall.

When most of us were that age, we were calling "shotgun" and fighting over the coveted front seat in the family car. The only reason we used phone books as boosters was to help us see out the windows.

As parents we want to do what is best for our kids--but that is sometimes confusing.

Laws for safety seats are different in every state and are they best practice or only regulating the minimum? There are so many different car seats in the stores and no matter how you try; sometimes they just don't seem to fit. It is no wonder that traffic crashes are still the leading cause of death for children from 6 to 14 years old. 

Currently, the law in Alaska states that children under four years of age must be properly secured in a federally-approved child safety seat. Children over four must be secured in an approved child safety seat, booster seat or safety belt, whichever is appropriate for the particular child. The driver is responsible for every passenger under the age of 16. The driver convicted of an infraction can be fined $50 and get two demerit points on their driver's license.

Special Agent Christopher Stone, 354th Security Forces Office of Special Investigations, said that the rules here on Eielson AFB are a bit tougher. Off base, they cannot pull someone over solely on a visibly missing seat belt or a child not restrained properly, but on base they can.

"By doing this, we're not contradicting state law, as the repercussions only apply to their installation driving privileges," he said.

These repercussions are a seven-day suspension for first offense, 60-day for the second offense, 6-month for the 3rd offense and for the 4th offense-you'd better buy a good mountain bike.

"Additionally, we mirror state law in that the driver is responsible for all occupants under 16, if the child isn't wearing the seat belt the vehicle operator gets the ticket and the suspension."

Fact is - car seat belts are designed for an adult male. If a seat belt doesn't fit properly or a child slouches, the lap part of the seat belt slides up onto the soft part of their abdomen. In a crash, a seat belt that is not on the hip bones causes serious injuries so common that Emergency Department doctors call them "seat belt syndrome." 

How many children do you know who put the seat belt behind their back so it won't rub on their neck? This is not safe, if the belt is placed under the arm, the shoulder part of the belt can break ribs and puncture internal organs. Children, who are too small for a seat belt can, and have, slipped out from the lap/shoulder belt, been ejected from the vehicle in a crash and killed.

There is a five-step test to determine when the adult seat belt properly fits your child.
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
3. Does the lap belt fit snugly across the top of the thighs?
4. Does the shoulder part of the belt come across the center of the shoulder and chest (normally 4'9" tall)?
5. Can the child sit like this for the whole trip?

If you answer no to any of these, your children would benefit from the use of a booster seat. It is estimated that only 6.1 percent of booster size children are actually using a booster seat. The use of booster seats compared to the use of adult seat belts alone lowers the risk of injury to children in crashes by 59 percent

The two most important things to do when looking for a booster seat are to read your vehicle owners manual and the manual for the safety seat. If your back seats don't have head rests, you will want a high back booster to provide that support. All seats are limited by weight and/or height so make sure your child fits the one you purchase.

The second most important thing to do is let your child help pick it out. If they like it, they'll more likely want to use it.

All children 12 and under should stay in the back seat. A recent study showed that occupants of the back seat are 59 percent to 86 percent safer than passengers in the front seat. An additional note with children is that their bones are not yet strong enough to withstand the force of a crash. They should be 13 before letting them sit "shotgun."

Booster seats may be a hassle to use or a pain to convince children to use. But protecting the ones we love means getting past the temporary complaints and perceived hassles because the lives of children really are at risk. Do it because you love them. Do it because it could save their lives.

Even though I probably won't get a traffic ticket if I let my daughter ride without a safety seat, she does not pass the five step test for properly fitting an adult safety belt. I can't bring myself to bet her life that she will be alright with only a seat belt, so she still rides in a booster. It is the law of our car.

If you have questions or would like to have your car seat inspected, please call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-6662 or Life Skills at 377-4042. Also check out www.safekids.org or www.boosterseat.gov .