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What does Florida’s new booster seat law mean for your family?

January 22, 2015

On January 1st, 2015 a new law became effective in Florida requiring children under the age of six years old to be restrained either in a child safety seat or booster seat while riding in a vehicle. Previously, Florida law mandated only that children under three years of age be restrained in a car seat, allowing parents to use seat belts for older children. Until this law took effect, Florida was one of only two states that did not require these safety measures for children under five years of age.

While this new legislation changes what is permissible under the law, it doesn’t change what has long been recommended by child safety experts. In fact, this new legislation still falls far short of the safety measures recommended to protect children in the event of an accident. If you’re following the recommendations endorsed by pediatricians, child safety advocates and motor vehicle safety experts, the new law won’t affect your family. However, if you’re unsure about the current recommendations, here is a crash course (pun intended) to help you keep your kids safe while riding in the car.

And keep in mind, the important thing is not simply meeting the minimum requirements of the law. Our primary goal as parents is to provide for the safety and well-being of our children.

Why do we need car seats and booster seats?

Car seats reduce the risk of death in car crashes by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4. Booster seats reduce the risk for serious injury by 45% for children ages 4 to 8 years old.

In plainer terms, when an accident happens, a car seat or booster seat can mean life or death for your child.

Rear-facing car seats until 2 years of age

All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are 2 years old or they have reached the maximum height or weight recommended by their car seat’s manufacturer. Once a child has outgrown their infant seat (the one with a handle that assists in carrying and snaps into a base), use a convertible car seat (one that can be used rear or forward-facing) in the rear-facing position until 2 years of age or they’ve exceeded the height and weight limit. Each car seat will have the height and weight limits listed (most currently allow a child to remain rear-facing until at least 35 lbs.)

Children over age 2 should use a forward-facing car seat as long as possible

Children over the age of 2 (or who’ve outgrown their rear-facing car seat) should remain in a forward-facing car seat until they have exceeded the height or weight limits of their forward-facing car seat (at least 4 years of age and 40 lbs). Many car seats can accommodate children up to 65 to 80 lbs.

Proper installation is important!

Every car seat has different installation instructions. Follow the manufacturer’s directions in the instruction manual carefully. You may install the car seat using the car’s seat belts OR the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). It is not necessary to use both the seatbelts AND the lower anchors, but tethers should always be used if possible for all forward-facing car seats. Newer recommendations state that if the weight of your child PLUS the weight of your car seat exceeds 65 lbs, the lower anchors of the LATCH system should not be used. The seatbelt should be used instead for those that exceed the weight limit. Check your car seat’s user manual to determine the weight of your car seat.

Once a child outgrows their forward-facing car seat, use a booster seat

Children should remain in a booster seat until the car’s lap and shoulder seatbelts are positioned correctly, typically when children have reached a height of 4 feet 9 inches and are between 8 and 12 years old.

Seat belts serve two primary functions: to prevent a person from being ejected from the vehicle and to distribute the force of a crash over the strongest parts of the body. This means that if the seatbelt is not positioned properly, it is not able to protect the person, and most children under the age of 10 to 12 are too small to be adequately protected by a seatbelt alone. Let's face the facts: cars are designed with adults in mind, not children. The use of a booster seat allows a child to receive the maximum amount of benefit from their seat belt until their bodies are big enough to properly fit into the car seat.

For a detailed explanation about why booster seats are safer than seat belts alone, see this explanation on thecarseatlady.com.

All children under 13 years old should be restrained in the back seat

Children 12 years old and under should not ride in the front seat, especially if your car has air bags. The safest place for children under 13 years old is restrained in the back seat of the car in an age-and size-appropriate car or booster seat. Once children have outgrown the use of booster seats, they should always be restrained with both the lap and shoulder belts for optimal protection.

If you have more questions about car safety, explore some of these excellent resources and check with your pediatrician.

Resources:

Check out this excellent resource provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: safercar.gov.

For more information about car seat installation, visit healthychildren.org.

Find your nearest car seat inspection location where certified technicians can ensure that your child’s car seat is installed properly: NHTSA.gov.

If you have questions about the LATCH system, see the answers to common questions here: thecarseatlady.com.

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