Committee approves proposal to reverse booster seat law

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A requirement to keep kids in booster seats could be history if a state lawmaker gets his way. House Bill 113 passed a committee Monday.

The current booster seat law is only 2 years old, but the bill's sponsor is eager to change it. Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, says parents should have options about strapping in their children on short trips.

Approximately 52 percent of all accidents occur within a five-mile radius of home. 69 percent occur within a 10-mile radius from home. -NHTSA

Right now, booster seats are required for all youngsters age 5 to 8 years old, unless they are taller than 4-foot-9. The proposed change would allow parents not to put their child in a booster seat if the trip is less than four miles, at speeds of less than 45 miles per hour.

Local doctors and child advocates testified against the proposal Monday. They pointed out that most accidents happen within five miles of home and that an unrestrained child is in real danger in an accident at any speed.

A booster seat reduces a child's risk of injury by 59 percent. -NHTSA

"Consistency with children, how do you tell a child that today I put you in a booster seat and tomorrow I don't, and it's OK? And then we continue that kind of behavior until they're 16, and then we wonder why they don't wear their seat belt all the time," says Janet Brooks, child advocacy manager at Primary Children's Medical Center.

"I think we would have a state full of child advocates if everyone were able to see what I see in the emergency room at Primary Children's Medical Center," says Dr. Charles Pruitt, a physician of pediatric emergency medicine at Primary Children's.

What is Utah's law?
In Utah, children up to age 8 (through age 7) must be in an appropriate child safety seat or booster seat when traveling in a passenger vehicle. There is an exception to the law that states that children younger than eight are not required to be in a booster seat if they are at least 57 inches tall. At that point, they should use the vehicle's lap and shoulder belt without a booster. This is a primary enforcement law for occupants under the age of 19 with a fine of $45.

Despite their testimony, the bill passed out of committee on a very close vote anyway.

Safety advocates say it's a step backward. Rolayne Fairclough, spokeswoman for AAA of Utah, says children 5 to 8 years old need the extra protection, even at low speeds.

"If you ran into a wall, say going 25 miles per hour, with a 60 pound child, 1,500 pounds of force would be applied to that child," she says.

Fairclough also points out that if HB113 passes, the state could lose $150,000 in federal money.

Herrod, on the other hand, says it's a matter of convenience and parents should be able to choose.

"It's not repealing the booster seat law, it's just saying under certain circumstances -- within four miles of home, under 45 miles per hour -- you can ride without a booster seat," Herrod says.

It would still be the parents' responsibility, and Herrod admits most would put their kids in a booster seat, but he doesn't think they should be forced to in all circumstances.


Story compiled with contributions from Richard Piatt and Sheryl Worsley.

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