BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Kids should automatically buckle up when they get in the car, but it’s the parents’ job to make sure their seat belt is fastened correctly. What’s also important, and shouldn’t be overlooked, is making sure kids are sitting in the right seat.
“Until a child is 9 years old, you won’t begin to transition them into a vehicle seat using an adult seat belt,” explained Bridget Gardner, trauma coordinator with the University Medical Center in New Orleans.
Advocates for child safety announced the Louisiana Child Passenger Safety Law Thursday afternoon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge. The change was a combined effort between the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), University Medical Center, Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association, and Louisiana State Police.
The law goes into effect Aug. 1 and aims to change the behavior of parents.
“Children are going to stay rear-facing until age 2, and until they meet the highest point of either the weight or the height for that particular seat,” Gardner said.
That means whatever seat your child is in now, they don’t need to transition into a new seat until they meet the age requirement and either the height or weight for that particular seat. The move to a new seat will vary based on each child’s growth.
Gardner says kids could be in an internal harness sometimes until they’re 7 years old before they transition into a booster seat. Experts say the way a seat belt falls on a child is important because if it rests in the wrong place, it could cause more harm than good.
The guidelines for each seat can be found on the side of the seat or in the instructional manual.
“The booster seat is going to do just what it says. It’s going to boost them up so that the seat belt fits properly,” Gardner said. “You want a seat belt to fit across your bones. You want a seat belt to fit across your clavicle, sternum, ribs, and hip bones, rather than soft tissue or on the belly.”
“Child passenger safety isn’t one size fits all. It’s not that rear-facing seats all have the same height and weight, forward facing doesn’t. It’s going to depend per child and child safety seat," said Gardner.
The best way to know whether your child should be in a booster seat is by following a simple five step test.
“Sitting all the way against the back of the vehicle. When the child does that, his knees should bend at the edge of the vehicle seat and his feet should be flat on the floor,” Gardner said.
Advocates say the seat belt fits correctly when:
- The child sits all the way back against the vehicle seat.
- The child’s knees bend over the edge of the vehicles seat
- The lap belt fits snugly across the child’s thighs or lower hips and not on the abdomen
- The shoulder strap snugly crosses the center of the child’s chest and not the neck
- The child sits properly, with no slouching or playing with the seat belt
Children at least 2 years old that have outgrown the rear-facing seat by height or weight must ride in a forward-facing safety seat with an internal harness. Children who are 4 years old that have outgrown the forward-facing seat must ride restrained in a child booster seat using a lap-shoulder seat belt. Children age 9 that have outgrown the booster seat and can pass the five step test must ride restrained with a lap-shoulder seat belt in the vehicle seat.
Children younger than 13 years old must ride in the rear seat of the vehicle, not in the front seat.
Drivers will be fined $100 for the first offense, and no less than $200 and no more than $500 for the second offense. The fine will be charged, plus all court costs will be for the third or subsequent offense.
Experts say a child can fall into more than one category should use the “more protective category."
“Child safety seats must be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions,” Gardner said.
The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission offers free car seat fitting stations year round.