It is time Florida passed a booster seat law for children when they reach 4 years of age.
Forty-seven states, concerned about the safety of their children, have enacted a booster seat law. Florida is not one of them.
However, there is tremendous support in Florida for the passage of this legislation. A statewide coalition of more than 30 organizations — consisting of medical, child advocacy and law enforcement organizations — has been formed to help pass this safety law for Florida's children.
Spinal cord damage, internal bleeding and death are more likely in auto accidents involving young children if parents do not use a booster seat. Currently, Florida law requires only the use of a seat belt when children reach the age of 4. A seat belt is likely to lock and cut across a young child's neck and abdomen, causing a broken neck, paralysis, skull and brain injuries, and bleeding from major arteries in the neck and abdomen.
In fact, a young child is four times as likely to experience an injury to the head and neck and three times as likely to experience an abdominal injury when restrained with a seat belt vs. a booster seat. A booster seat gives the child a much greater chance of surviving a crash injury-free.
Booster seats save money and are not expensive for parents. Each seat used saves society $1,800 over the four years of its use. Booster seats will prevent many of the injuries that, each year, require 4,000 Florida children between the ages of 4 and 8 to visit emergency rooms as a result of auto accidents.
Florida will save money with a booster seat law, as children with serious injuries often require Medicaid coverage for their long-term medical care. Meanwhile, an adequate booster seat can be purchased for $30 or less. This is a cost of less than 65 cents per month during the four years of its use. This is a tremendous return on investment. A $30 booster seat will save $1,800.
Florida's children deserve to be protected. Unfortunately, a seat belt does not fit young children properly due to their small size. Amusement parks understand the importance of height requirements for children's rides to keep children safe. Florida lawmakers should similarly place children's safety as a high priority.
Opponents argue that a booster seat law would be an intrusion in the lives of parents. The Florida Pediatric Society sees the issue from the point of view of children. Children cannot advocate for this law and children cannot decide for themselves the safest manner in which to travel in a car. We, as Florida citizens, must speak out on behalf of our children.
Children do not have a voice in politics, so we must speak for them. It is time for Florida to pass a booster seat law.
Jose D. Jimenez, a pediatrician in Wesley Chapel, is a board member of the Florida Pediatric Society.