NEWS

Starting Thursday, children up to 8 to use booster seats

Stephanie Choate

Christina LaVoie’s 6-year-old son graduated from a booster seat last year, in line with state law that required kids 5 and under to have special seating.

But, when a new state law takes effect Thursday, he will be back at square one, whether he likes it or not. The law requires kids up to age 8 to ride in booster seats.

“The law is good for safety reasons,” said LaVoie. “But kids who are already out, I don’t think they’ll go back in. They’ve gotten used to being out of it.”

Medical experts, and some parents, are lauding the new law.

Parents will now be on the hook if a child up to age 8 and shorter than 57 inches tall is not in a booster or car seat. Previously, such a requirement only applied to children 5 years old and younger who weighed 40 pounds or less.

Sharon Sallaway – a Quincy teacher, Taunton resident and mother of three – kept her youngest son, Liam, in a booster seat until he turned 8 last year. He didn’t like it.

“He kept complaining, ‘Mom, I am the only kid still in a booster seat,’’’ said Sallaway. “(But) I didn’t want to take any chances.”

Now, “no one will think they’ll get laughed at anymore,” said Lisa Pratt, a Canton resident and mother of nearly 4-year-old Courtney. “It will just be normal.”

Pratt said she’d already planned to keep Courtney in a booster seat past her 5th birthday, and has no problem with the new law.

“In an instant anything could happen,” Pratt said. “I can’t imagine her being out of it.”

For children ages 4 to 7, booster seats reduce injury by 59 percent compared to seat belts alone, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Without a booster seat, the seat belt rides up on a child’s stomach and can cause abdominal injuries in an accident, said Debbie Pentecost, a registered nurse and trauma program manager at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth.

A regular seat “doesn’t put the seat belt in the proper place. By putting them in the booster seat you put (the belt) over an area that can sustain the force,” she said.

The most common child seat belt injuries Pentecost sees are spine fractures and tears to the intestines or bowels, known as seat belt syndrome.

“One of the really good things about the law is it supports all those parents who do put their kids in booster seats,” she said. “It’s tough to have an 8-year-old in a booster seat, when all their friends aren’t in one.”

Several local police stations have certified child safety seat technicians who teach parents how to properly install the seats. The Hanover Police Department checks about 30 to 35 seats a month, police officer David Zemotel said.

“(It’s) something parents must comply with,” said Zemotel. “For the safety of their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, it’s the absolute way to go.”

They may not like it, but families who don’t abide by the new rules could face legal trouble. Police officers can stop a vehicle if they see an unrestrained child, said Zemotel, or cite the driver if they notice a violation otherwise.

“We are always on the lookout for unrestrained children,” he said.

Stephanie Choate may be reached at schoate@ledger.com.

Maureen Boyle of GateHouse News Service contributed to this report.

ON THE WEB:

To learn more about car safety for kids, check these Web sites of these groups:  

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at http://www.nhtsa.gov/CPS/CSSRating
  • Safe Kids Worldwide, at http://www.safekids.org
  • American Academy of Pediatrics, at http://www.aap.org/family/carseatguide.htm
  • Seat Check, at http://www.seatcheck.org/

GET CHECKED

Several police departments  in the area have certified safety seat technicians who can check seats by appointment.

  • Hanover Police Department, phone: 781-826-2335
  • Hingham Police Department, phone: 781-749-1212
  • Hanson Police Department,  phone: 781-293-4625
  • Norwell Police Department, phone: 781-659-7979
  • Whitman Police Department, phone: 781-447-7626  
  • Massachusetts State Police stations