TALLAHASSEE — Starting in January, Florida children 5 or younger must ride in a child safety seat when traveling in an automobile under legislation passed 36-3 by the Senate on Tuesday and sent to the governor.
Under the measure, HB 225, the law will expand the current requirement that children ages 3 or younger be restrained in car seats to apply to children ages 4 and 5, who often outgrow car seats. No longer will they be allowed to be restrained using a seat belt. They will have to be restrained using booster seats.
The bill received final approval after legislators had tried for 14 years to get the measure passed. Florida and South Dakota are the only two states in the nation that do not require children who have outgrown their child safety seats to use booster seats.
According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle injuries are a major cause of death among children. Using a car seat reduced the risk of death for infants by 71 percent and for older children by 54 percent. Fatal or incapacitating injuries were reduced 17 percent for children up to age 7 or 8 who use booster seats.
"This is a wonderful bill and it's going to save children's lives," said Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, who worked on passing the bill for years.
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, called it a "mom's issue." Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, called it a "father issue, too." Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said concerned uncles support it, as well.
The measure was pushed by members of the Florida Junior League, and it was sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.
Drivers who violate the requirement are subject to a $60 fine, court costs and add-ons, and having three points assessed against their driver's license. To avoid the points, the driver may participate in a child restraint safety program.
There are some exceptions: Children between 4 and 5 years of age may use a seat belt if the driver is not a member of the child's immediate family and the child is being transported as a favor to the family, in the case of an emergency, or when a doctor provides reason for an exception.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children use a child safety seat or a booster seat until at least age 5, and until the seat belt fits properly. According to the federal guidelines, the seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected]