A new law that impacts children across Washington has parents dragging old booster seats out of the garage or buying brand new ones. (Jennifer Bardsley)

A new law that impacts children across Washington has parents dragging old booster seats out of the garage or buying brand new ones. (Jennifer Bardsley)

Guess what, kiddo? You’re going back into a booster seat

Washington’s car seat law has changed in 2020 to keep children under 4-feet-9 or 13 years old in a booster.

In addition to resolutions, promises and hangovers, the new year brings an updated law that impacts children all across Washington and anyone who drives a car with passengers under the age of 13.

Washington’s old law: “A child who is 8 years of age or older or 4-feet-9-inches or taller shall be properly restrained with the motor vehicle’s safety belt properly adjusted and fastened around the child’s body or an appropriately fitting child restraint system.”

That meant that, in 2019, my 10-year-old daughter could legally ride in the backseat of a car without a booster seat even though she was 4-foot-6. But now the law has changed, and my daughter needs to go back into a booster seat.

Effective Jan. 1, Washington law now states that a child who is under 4-feet-9-inches tall or 13 years of age must be properly secured in a child booster seat.

But what about 13-year-olds who aren’t yet 4-foot-9? I asked Kelly Just, public relations and Traffic Safety Program manager for AAA Washington, about that scenario: “The safest position for a child passenger who has yet to reach 4-foot-9 or fit properly into the vehicle’s seat belt is in the back seat with a booster seat.”

“While it would be legal for that 13-year-old child to sit in the front seat, it would not be the safest location for them,” Just added. “Unless a seat’s owner manual states otherwise, a booster could be used in the front seat when used by a child 13 years or older.”

I’ve always put a strong emphasis on keeping my children safe. I scoured the SafeCar.gov ratings before we purchased our SUV. I memorized Consumer Reports data from the years my babies were born so that they’d have the best car seats, no matter the cost. I even kept my daughter in a booster seat long after she turned 8 years old, just to be extra cautious. But now I’m in the unusual position of the law being more protective than my best mom-instincts.

We didn’t even own a booster seat anymore. I had to go out and buy a brand new one. Guess what it said on the box? “For ages 6-10.” My daughter’s slim, but a lot of parents are running into the issue of having children under the height requirement but over the 100-pound limit for most boosters.

It seems like the booster-seat manufacturers are not caught up with the new law either.

Really though, the finger should be pointing directly at car manufacturers. Why do they continue to produce cars that are only safe for a certain size of passenger? We need cars with built-in child restraints, built-in boosters, adjustable seat belts and perhaps optional five-point harnesses for everyone.

Until that happens, parents like me were stuck having really awkward conversations with our children this past week. I waited until we were having a lovely afternoon swimming at the pool. “Guess what?” I told my daughter, in my brightest voice. “Gov. Inslee signed a new law that will help keep you safe.”

“What is it?” she asked.

“You get to ride in a booster seat again.” I smiled hard and gave her the thumbs up. Instead of smiling back, she dunked her head under water.

Sorry, Toots. Welcome to the new year.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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