Child safety advocates push for new car seat rules

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Capital News Service

LANSING– Safety advocates want to put more children in car seats under proposed legislation that has been stalled for years. 

Last year, 4,544 children ages 14 and under were injured in Michigan traffic accidents, according to the Department of State Police. Of those, 43 died.

Car injuries are the second-highest preventable injuries in children, said Jared Burkhart, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

His association has been pushing for new car seat regulations for about six years, he said.

Burkhart said hopes the bill moves through the Legislature this year.

A 2018 survey by Michigan State University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, reported that restraints are used at a rate of 98.2% for ages up to 3, and at 54.5% for ages 4 to 7.

Drivers with child passengers under 4 years old now must properly secure them in a child restraint system. The law also requires children between the ages 4 and 8 and who are shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches ,to be properly secured. 

If the proposed legislation passes, children who weigh less than 30 pounds or are under 2 years old would be required to use a rear-facing car seat. 

Children between 30 and 50 pounds or between the ages of 2 and 5 would have to sit in forward-facing car seats.

If children are less than 57 inches tall, weigh 50 pounds or more or are less than 11 years old, they must be seated in a booster seat, under the proposed legislation. 

Rep. Julie Alexander (R-Hanover) and Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) are sponsors of the House bill that was referred to the Committee on Transportation.

Amy Zaagman, the executive director of the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health, said her organization supports the proposal.

Administrative and political roadblocks have kept the changes from being implemented, she said. A lot of resistance is because many people feel that parents should have the ultimate say in how to protect their children.

But it’s not about the state dictating to parents about what seats they need to buy, Zaagman said. The goal is to get children safely secured when they are in a vehicle, and to teach parents the proper way to keep them safe.

The way children are sitting and restrained in a car should be to help them properly withstand impact of a collision, and it doesn’t matter how old they are, Zaagman said.

“It’s not a magic thing that happens at a certain age,” she said. Children can be above the age where they are required to sit in a car seat, yet small enough to need one. 

Children often look forward to growing up and moving onwards, she said. Not having to sit in a car seat is one of those moments they look forward to. 

But car seats aren’t about confining kids and holding them back — it’s about safety, Zaagman said.

Stephanie Flohr, the trauma and injury prevention manager at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said the Safe Kids Greater Grand Rapids, which is led by her hospital’s foundation, is part of a worldwide coalition that focuses on injury prevention in children.

Safe Kids Greater Grand Rapids checks car seats to make sure that they are used properly, Flohr said. But those appointments have been on hold during the pandemic.

In the past, the appointments were robust, she said.

“Parents want to do the right thing,” Flohr said.

There is about a 95% misuse rate with car seats, which ranges from minor to major misuses, she said. Usually wrongdoing is unintentional, and most parents are grateful for becoming educated in doing things correctly.

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