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State ramping up child restraint laws

Motor vehicle crashes claim the lives of many children due to improper seat belt or car seat use.

State officials hopes to reduce that death rate by stepping up child restraint laws.

Beginning Friday, Washington’s passenger safety law will change. Children up to 8 years of age, unless they are 4 feet 9 inches tall, must ride in a child car seat, booster seat, vest or other restraint that is federally approved for use in a vehicle.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and safety advocates of children know that kids under 4 feet 9 inches are safest in booster seats,” said Theresa MacLennan, Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue spokeswoman.

Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killers of children ages 4 to 8, according to MacLennan, and Washington officials hope this new child restraint law will change that.

A booster seat is used to position the seat belt over the pelvic and shoulder bones in a child’s body.

“(A booster seat) positions the seat belt over the strong bones of the body,” said Carolyn Pence, Kitsap County traffic safety task force coordinator. “The booster seat lifts that child up.”

Motor vehicles equipped with lap-only seat belts are exempt from the requirement to use a booster seat. Seat belts that go over the shoulder typically do not fit children properly, which creates the need for a booster seat.

“Their bodies are still growing,” MacLennan said. “They are flexible and pliable and the safety belts just don’t fit properly.”

Many adults believe a child’s need for a car or booster seat is determined by weight, but that is incorrect.

“We can’t stress enough that this has nothing to do with weight,” MacLennan said. “It’s about height and where everything fits.”

Aside from the car and booster seat changes, the new passenger safety law requires children younger than 13 years of age to ride in the back seat of a vehicle. It also states that children up to 8 years of age or at least 4 feet 9 inches tall must wear a seat belt correctly and infants must be placed in rear-facing infant seats from birth to 1 year and until they weigh at least 20 pounds.

Beginning Friday, Washington motorists who do not comply with the new passenger safety law will receive a $112 fine.

“You can receive a ticket immediately,” MacLennan said.

Currently the seat belt law requires all vehicle occupants to be properly restrained in all seating positions. The driver is responsible for making sure all children younger than 16 are properly secured and passengers older than 16 years of age are responsible for themselves and may receive their own ticket if they are not properly restrained.

Various organizations in Kitsap County want to ensure children are restrained in proper car and booster seats. Bainbridge Island Fire Station 23, Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One/Gig Harbor Police, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center, Naval Hospital Bremerton (military families only) and North Kitsap Fire & Rescue offer free car seat inspections at certain times throughout the month. For a list of days and times of inspections, visit www.ckfr.org and click on public safety.

Beginning June 1, Washington’s child restraint law will change to require:

• Children up to 8 years old, unless they are 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches) tall, must be transported in a child restraint system, such as a child car seat, booster seat, vest or other restraint that is federally approved for use in a vehicle. Vehicles equipped with lap-only seat belts are exempt from the requirement to use a booster seat.

• Children younger than 13 years of age must ride in the back seat of a vehicle.

• Children who are 8 years old or at least 4 feet 9 inches tall must wear a seat belt correctly. This means not putting it under the arm or behind the back.

• Infants must be placed in rear-facing infant seats from birth to 1 year and until they weigh at least 20 pounds.

Currently the seat belt law requires:

• All vehicle occupants to be properly restrained in all seating positions.

• The driver is responsible for seeing that all children younger than the age of 16 are properly secured.

• Passengers 16 years of age and older are responsible for themselves and may receive their own ticket if they are not properly restrained. Buckling one seat belt around two people or improperly wearing a seat belt is dangerous and a violation of the law.

Free car seat inspections are available at the following locations on certain days of the month:

• Bainbridge Island Fire Station 23

• Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One/Gig Harbor Police

• Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office

• Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center

• Naval Hospital Bremerton (military families only)

• North Kitsap Fire & Rescue

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