RALEIGH, N.C. — Every year, close to 200 children between the ages of 5 and 7 are seriously injured in car accidents in North Carolina.
A proposal in the Legislature is designed to reduce that number. If the bill passes, thousands of elementary-school children will stay strapped in booster seats.
Noah Rutledge, 5, is not required by law to use a booster seat. But his mother said he is just not big enough to do without one.
"I would have kept it in there even if he was 10, 11 years old," Carolyn Rutledge said, "just for my knowing he was safe and that it's coming across him the way it's supposed to."
State lawmakers want to make it mandatory that all children under 8 years old and 80 pounds have some sort of restraint system. Highway safety researchers have said that is a good idea, noting that cars are not designed with kids in mind.
North Carolina's child restraint law has been on the books since the mid-1980s and first applied to children under 4 years old. It was updated a decade later and now extends to children younger than 5 and weighing less than 40 pounds.
Booster seats have been strongly recommended to parents for many years, said Tom Vitaglione, a co-chairman of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, which recommended the bill to the Legislature.
"This sort of a bill we think of as an education bill," Vitaglione said. "If something becomes a law, people pay more attention to it."
According to some researchers, lap and shoulder belts really don't fit children very well. The shoulder straps can cut into the neck area and be loose fitting.
"I looked behind me yesterday," Carolyn Rutledge said. "(Noah) had taken it and put it behind his neck."
The combination of car seat or booster seat and the seat belt can make a huge difference. A study done by
Children's Hospital in Philadelphia
shows the combination reduces chance of injury by 60 percent.
"You're talking spinal-chord injuries, neck injuries and head injuries," a researcher said.
The idea of strapping in and buckling up in special seats a bit longer sits well with the Senate, which passed the bill by a 36-11 vote. Now, it is in the House.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have booster-seat laws. Violators can be fined between $25 and $500, and licenses can be revoked until a seat is purchased.
All other states require child-restraint systems to be used up to ages 2, 3 or 4.