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Booster seat law goes in effect Friday

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

COVINGTON -- Those who tossed booster seats out when their children turned 6 now may have to return to the store. Booster seat requirements will go into effect Friday for 6- and 7-year-olds due to the new state law, and area law enforcement will begin enforcing the new regulation.

"Seat belts in cars are designed for adults and raising the age for children to ride in booster seats is a measure to keep children safe," said Georgia State Patrol spokesman Gordy Wright. "The booster seat raises the child so the shoulder belt crosses the child's shoulder and chest and not across the neck. The seat also keeps the lap belt in position across the hips and not on the stomach area."

Officials with Children's Health Care of Atlanta and Safe Kids Georgia were advocates of the legislation that was introduced as House Bill 279 by Rep. Alan Powell of Hartwell and as Senate Bill 88 by Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga.

"Within the last four years, 95 percent of the patients we saw for injuries resulting from a motor vehicle crash between the ages of 6 and 8 were improperly restrained," said Dr. James Fortenberry, pediatrician-in-chief for Children's Health Care of Atlanta.

According to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, children using booster seats are almost 60 percent less likely to be injured in a crash.

In 2008, a total of 14,154 Georgia children ages 6 to 8 were involved in motor vehicle crashes. Of those, 1,755 were injured and 10 were killed. Only 12 percent of these children were reported to be using a supplemental restraint, such as a child safety seat or a booster seat, in addition to the adult seat belt.

Not only is it believed the extra precautions would relieve the pain and suffering of Georgia children, it is shown the financial impact would also decrease.

According to Children's Health Care, in the 3-year period from 2005 to 2007, hospitalization charges for 248 children who were hospitalized due to motor vehicle traffic related injuries were about $7 million. An additional $5 million in charges was for the 5,111 emergency room visits for the same period.

Covington Police Department Detective D.J. Seals said the new law is not much different than the one already in effect -- it just extends the age requirement to 8 years.

"The child must be 4 feet, 9 inches tall or over 8 years old and it pertains to all passenger vehicles. We're still reminding people that trucks are not exempt," he said, adding that buses or school buses still are exempt.

The booster seat must be properly installed according to the manufacturer's instructions in the rear seat.

"Basically the law raises the age and puts in a height restriction simply to make sure that the young person fits in the belt properly," Seals said. "If a shoulder belt hits them somewhere in the area of the chin and there's an accident, then obviously there would be pressure on the chin and neck and that's not good. The booster seat raises the child up so the shoulder belt hits them where it needs to."