Law forces kids back into booster seats

  • By Scott Pesznecker and Melissa Slager / Herald Writers
  • Thursday, May 10, 2007 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

Thousands of Washington children will be forced back into car and booster seats next month when a change to state law takes effect.

On June 1, children will have to stay in the safety seats until they are at least 8 years old and 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

Violators face a $112 ticket.

About half of all children between 6 to 8 years old will be affected by the change, according to safety advocates.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for those kids who have been out of the booster seat to get back,” said Shawneri Guzman of Snohomish County SAFE KIDS, a nonprofit group that works to prevent childhood injuries.

The change means parents such as Renee Shonko, 44, of Lake Stevens must break the news to their children.

Daughters Lexi, 8, and Karly, 10, aren’t exactly thrilled to be going back into booster seats.

“I don’t like it,” said Karly, who at 4-foot-8 (with shoes on) is taller than most of her classmates. But that’s not tall enough for a seat belt to fit her properly.

Currently, children are required to ride in booster seats until they’re 6 years old or weigh 60 pounds.

The changes also require children to use booster seats until they are 16 years old if a vehicle’s seat belt does not properly fit the child.

Another change requires children younger than 13 to ride in the back seat whenever possible. They’re allowed to ride in the front only if the vehicle has no lap-and-shoulder belts in the back seat.

Shonko said she didn’t understand the need for the new rules when she heard about them from a Washington State Patrol television ad six months ago.

Since then, Shonko has learned what child safety advocates have been saying for years: that seat belts, designed for adults, can cause deadly injuries to people who are too small.

“It’s still frustrating, but I would rather (my daughters) were safe,” she said.

Motor vehicle crashes are the single largest killer for children between the ages of 4 and 8, according to the Washington State Booster Seat Coalition.

Booster seats reduce a child’s risk of injury by 59 percent, according to coalition data.

When the law goes into effect, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office deputies plan to begin ticketing people immediately, said detective John Cummings, the office’s child passenger safety instructor.

State troopers plan to give drivers a few days in June to comply with the new law, Washington State Patrol trooper Kirk Rudeen said.

Many tickets will likely be written as secondary violations for people who are pulled over for other reasons, such as speeding, Rudeen said.

However, officers also will be looking for children who are sitting low in their seats – a giveaway that booster seats are needed, he said.

“Any law that’s going to keep the occupants of the vehicle safer is pretty much a no-brainer,” Rudeen said. “Anything that’s going to keep the children safer, we’re 100 percent for.”

The state’s car seat law is called “Anton’s Law,” named after 4-year-old Anton Skeen.

Despite wearing a seat belt, Anton died in a rollover accident near Yakima in 1996. He was ejected from the vehicle he was riding in.

The changes – crafted by lawmakers and Anton’s mother – were adopted by the Legislature in 2005.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said that during the debate, lawmakers viewed pictures of children who’d been maimed by seat belts.

“It’s one of those really tough issues, but I come in on the side of safety, and this is a safety issue,” said Haugen, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Many parents in Snohomish County already are complying with the law.

Nichole Cunnington of Marysville has continued to buckle her 6-year-old daughter, Sarah, into a high-back booster seat.

“She’s only 40 pounds. I couldn’t see how she could sit safely in there without a booster,” Cunnington said.

John and Heidi Barrett of Everett say the new law won’t affect them. Their 7-year-old son is still in a booster seat because he’s small for his age, Heidi Barrett said.

“So it didn’t matter what the law was,” she said. “We were going to do what protects our child.”

Lexi and Karly Shonko enjoy the cup holders attached to their new no-back boosters.

Still, the girls have mixed feelings.

“I would rather be safe,” Karly said. “I probably wouldn’t want one, but I would kind of want it.”

Car seat Q&A

A. June 1.

A. Police will watch for child passengers who appear to be sitting too low in vehicles. They also plan to cite people they pull over for other violations, such as speeding. The penalty is a $112 ticket.

A. $40 to $120 for high-back seats, $15 to $20 for no-back seats at Everett Toys “R” Us.

Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or spesznecker@heraldnet.com.

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