State Senator Keith Perry wants to require children to be in car or booster seats until age 7, raising the age requirement by one year.
As it currently stands under Florida law, children aged 0 to 3-years-old must use a car seat and children aged 4 to 5-years-old must use either a car seat or be in a seat belt, depending on the child’s height and weight.
Under Perry’s bill, children aged 4 to 6-years-old would be required to be in a car seat or booster seat. Children would be exempt from this if driven by a non-family member, are in an emergency situation or have a valid medical condition.
Perry points to national organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say that booster seat use reduces the risk of serious injury by 45 percent among 4 to 8-years-old compared to seat belt use alone.
“Kids are not safe in adult seat belts,” he said. “It’s just not designed for kids, and so we have to have something to protect these children.”
Many parents do not know how to properly install car seats, said Jamie Lambert of the Alachua County Health Department. She works with car seat safety classes run by the health department that helps parents learn to properly install car seats.
In Alachua County last year, Lambert said 84 percent of parents who attended the safety classes had incorrectly installed their children’s car seats.
“Misuse is usually because of errors in car seat selection, direction, location in the vehicle, installation or harnessing,” she said. “Until a child reaches maturity, without the proper harnessing and proper installation of the car seat, their little bodies can’t withstand crashes.”
But for mothers like Shalanda Dexter, who has five children, an extra year in a car or booster seat for her children could be hard on money and space.
“It’s kind of expensive to keep buying the same car seats or different car seats,” Dexter said. “As [they get older], you have to keep switching car seats and a lot of parents may not have a big vehicle. They may be forced to work within their budget.”
Dexter said most of the car seats she has bought on sale have cost her from $50 to $100.
Perry said he understands the cost for some families is difficult, but saving a life means more.
“You know I heard this a long time ago: If you don’t like being confined by a seat belt, try a wheel chair,” he said. “Can we put a price tag on saving kids’ lives?”