Forty-eight states have laws requiring children older than 3 to be restrained in a booster seat. Florida is not one of them.
This year, Rep. Keith Perry is fighting to establish a booster seat law that will make roads safer for children.
The bill would expand the amount of time children have to be in crash-tested, federally-approved safety seats.
If passed, children between 4 and 7 years old and shorter than 4 feet 9 inches will have to be secured in a booster seat while in a moving car.
The current law only requires that children under 3 years old be placed in car seats. As soon as a child turns 4, he or she can use an adult seat belt.
Rep. Perry said he hopes the bill decreases the number of car-related deaths for children, which will save both lives and taxpayer dollars.
Booster seats are used when a child outgrows their car seat to raise the child up so the seat belt fits properly across their chest and thighs. Labels on the side indicate the maximum height and weight limits, which are unique to each car and booster seat.
If the new bill is passed, using only a seat belt to secure children under the age and height requirement would be illegal. Breaking the law would result in a moving violation with three points added to a license.
Without booster seats, the seat belt can cross the child’s neck and stomach and in the case of a crash, lead to a higher chance of fatal neck, spinal cord and internal injury. For children from 4 to 8 years old, booster seats reduce the risk for serious injury by 45 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The original booster seat bill was proposed in 2001, and a similar bill has been proposed in ten of the past 13 legislative sessions.
Becker Holland, chair of the State Public Affairs Committee for the Junior League of Gainesville, has been fighting for a booster seat bill for the past 13 years because she said she feels the current law puts children at risk.
Children between 4 and 7 years old are not afforded the same degree of protection as infants, she said.
In 2001, Florida would have been one of the first states to pass a law extending the booster seat requirements, Holland said. Now Florida is one of the last, along with South Dakota.
“It has been a mystery and a struggle as to why we haven’t gotten it passed in 13 years,” Holland said. “Maybe this year will be our year.”
Of the six bills Florida House Representatives can file, Perry chose this cause because he believes it will have a big effect and has a high chance of getting passed.
“I know it’s gonna be a tough battle, but I think it’ll have a big impact on the state,” Perry said.
Laurie Newsom, a small-business owner and president of the Gainesville Tea Party, agrees that children should be protected, but by their parents, not legislation.
Newsom said she feels the new law is an unnecessary expansion of government power that restricts people’s flexibility.
“Regulations like this chip away at how efficient someone can be,” she said.
Stricter legislation displaces responsibility from the parents onto society, which causes a burden fiscally, Newsom said. She is worried that if the bill is passed, tax payers like her will have to bear the burden of costs to enforce the new law.
She also wants parents to be able to make their own decisions and deal with the consequences — whether good or bad.
However, as a supporter of Rep. Perry, Newsom said the legislation must be an important public safety tool if he proposed the bill and is fighting for it.
She has no plans to protest this specific bill.
Krista Ott, the risk reduction specialist for Gainesville Fire Rescue, is a supporter of the bill.
Through her work with the fire department and as a mother of a 3-year-old, Ott knows the risks and consequences associated with improperly securing a child in a car.
She said Gainesville Fire Rescue has been involved in many incidents where children have been ejected from a vehicle and killed because they were not properly strapped in.
“We are seeing children every day in our state get hurt by this,” she said.
With families still struggling from the economy, Ott said she understands how it can be an economic hassle to buy a car or booster seat – especially when they cost upwards of $800.
Parents need to decide how high of a priority their child’s safety is, she said. Through a state-funded grant, Gainesville Fire Rescue offers families brand new car seats for $45. Families needing government assistance can get them for $20, and anyone can get a booster seat for $20.
“There’s really no excuse,” Ott said.