Children's Hospital physicians and nurses urge parents to use booster seats
New law takes effect in early July
June 16, 2008
In April, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law legislation requiring children who outgrow child safety seats to be secured in booster seats when in a vehicle. The law applies to children up to age eight, or 4'9" in height. The fine for violations is $25 per child, and is a non-surchargeable insurance offense. The law will take effect in early July, in time for the summer travel season.
Standard seat belts are designed to protect a full size adult so it is no surprise that they don't fit young children who have grown out of their toddler child-safety seat. Children's bones are still developing, so their bodies are much less likely to be able to safely withstand the impact of a car crash. Belt-positioning booster seats are designed to elevate a child so the shoulder strap fits properly across the collarbone and the lap belt fits across the pelvis.
It's easy to forget that restraint systems in the average car are designed for adults; not school-age children," says Lois Lee, MD, MPH, director of the Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital Boston. "By raising a child a few crucial inches higher, booster seats protect children in cars far more effectively than seat belts alone. With the additional height provided by a booster seat, seat belts rest properly on the chest and hips to provide the best protection in the event of a motor vehicle crash. Without that additional height, children involved in motor vehicle collisions are at serious risk for spine, head, and abdominal injuries."
As the new law comes into effect in early July, Children's Hospital is working to increase awareness of the new legislation and is also expanding its programs to connect underserved families with booster seats through the Children's Hospital Primary Care Center and through the Martha Eliot Health Center in Jamaica Plain.
"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children between ages four and eight," continued Lee. "Booster seats reduce motor-vehicle crash injury risk by 60 per cent compared to using a seat belt alone. Parents need to take the time to learn how easy it is to use a booster seat. Before, it was just common sense. Now it's also the law."
The new legislation, supported by the American Automobile Association (AAA), Children's Hospital and other organizations, will have the added benefit of clarifying confusion around whether booster seats are absolutely necessary.
"AAA worked to help pass this law because we knew that many parents were confused by the absence of a statutory booster seat requirement. Most parents believe that if they follow the law they're doing what's right for their kids. Codifying booster seats not only filled a big gap in the Massachusetts law, it also helps instruct responsible parenting, and keeps children safe," said Art Kinsman, director of Government Affairs at AAA Southern New England.
Although child safety seat use is greater than 90 percent for infants and toddlers, and data shows that booster seats lower the risk of injury in crashes by 60 percent, the National Traffic Safety Administration estimates that national booster seat use only reaches 41 percent. In addition, every child safety seat used saves approximately $140 nationally in medical expenses.
Massachusetts now joins 38 other states and Washington, D.C. in passing booster seat legislation.
Children's Hospital Boston is home to the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 12 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children's Hospital Boston today is a 397-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children's also is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about the hospital and its research visit: www.childrenshospital.org/newsroom.
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Catherine Gordon, MD, MSc