Evelyn Renner, 9, and Hazel Renner, 4, sit in their booster and child car seats, respectively. Updated requirements to Washington’s child car restraint law now specifiy that a child younger than 13 who is not 4 feet, 9 inches, must use a booster seat. (Lena Renner)

Evelyn Renner, 9, and Hazel Renner, 4, sit in their booster and child car seats, respectively. Updated requirements to Washington’s child car restraint law now specifiy that a child younger than 13 who is not 4 feet, 9 inches, must use a booster seat. (Lena Renner)

Stricter child car seat law may mean longer booster seat use

An age increase for when a child can ditch a booster seat could mean new purchases for the family.

Not a parent myself, I have to admit the concerns of the child-toting crowd are a blind spot for me.

So I was glad to have The Herald’s “I Brake For Moms” columnist, Jennifer Bardsley, email me about the state’s new car seat law that took effect Jan. 1.

Essentially the altered rules mean more children will need a child seat or booster seat for longer in the hopes of improving their safety in a collision. The law retained the ticket penalty for drivers if passengers younger than 16 are not using the correct car seat, booster seat or seat belt for their age and size.

The new rules:

Children under 2 must be in a rear-facing child restraint (a child car seat), until they reach the seat manufacturer’s height or weight limits.

Children between 2 and 4 not in a rear-facing system must use a forward-facing harness, until they reach the seat manufacturer’s height or weight limits.

Children older than 4 and younger than 13 not using a child restraint system who are shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches must use a booster seat.

The law, passed by the Legislature last year, caught Bardsley and her family by surprise. She said her youngest child, now 10, used a booster seat until she was 9½. They kept some around to transport her fellow Girl Scouts, but eventually got rid of the gear. The new rules prompted her to buy a new booster seat.

Evelyn Renner, 9, and Hazel Renner, 4, sit in their booster and child car seats, respectively. Updated requirements to Washington’s child car restraint law now specify that a child younger than 13 who is not 4 feet, 9 inches, must use a booster seat. (Lena Renner)

Evelyn Renner, 9, and Hazel Renner, 4, sit in their booster and child car seats, respectively. Updated requirements to Washington’s child car restraint law now specify that a child younger than 13 who is not 4 feet, 9 inches, must use a booster seat. (Lena Renner)

“She’s taller than I am when she sits in the booster, and I’m 5 (feet) 5,” Bardsley said. “So I’m close to the cusp of needing the booster… On the plus side, Brenna now has access to her own cup holder.”

Adults who are shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches are not required to use a booster seat, because the law specifies their use based on age and/or size. Once someone turns 13, bye bye booster seats.

The new Bardsley family booster seat has a recommended age of up to 10, though it meets the specifications for her daughter’s size, she said. But potentially needing to put three booster seats in the back row could be a challenge for Girl Scout trips.

Dan Hansen, an Everett father of four, also was unaware of the changes. But he said he and his wife, Heather, were prepared anyway.

“Our kids are so used to booster seats that it’s not really a big deal,” he said.

Their children, ages 10, 8, 5 and 3, still use the required booster or child seat in their vehicles. The 10-year-old child is 4 feet, 6 inches and has used a booster seat. So the Hansen children have yet to expect the sweet grown-up freedom and simplicity of the standard seat belt.

As a family with a couple of vehicles, they keep two child seats in each, and transfer the booster seats as needed “because moving car seats from car to car is such a pain,” he said.

The grandparents also have the appropriate child car restraint systems to avoid the hassle (and frustration) of installing theirs, Hansen said.

His lingering question was if they would need to buy new booster or child seats because of the law.

“We thought we were kind of set with the car seats that we had,” he said. “I know car seats technically expire … but we figured we were set.”

I can’t blame a guardian, parent or family for dreading yet another required expense. Buying a booster or child car seat can cost from $50 to upwards of $300 on Amazon.

Drivers won’t necessarily have to buy new gear, so long as their existing restraint systems comply with the law based on their children’s age, size, and the manufacturers’ recommendations.

“It’s not that I don’t want my daughter to be safe,” Bardsley said. “It’s just that the law kind of caught me by surprise.”

When the child booster seat law took effect in 2007, the age limit was 8. Removal of a specified age means most kids will need a booster seat until 10 or 12 years old, according to University of Washington Medicine.

Vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2018, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported 880 children younger than 13 died in collisions. Of that total, 193 children were unrestrained.

Proper use of child safety restraints and seats can reduce fatal injury by 71%, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.

“These changes will help parents protect their children on the road,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in a news release. “This change brings us in line with current best thinking about keeping kids safe.”

Child passengers should ride in the back seat until they are 13.

Have a question? Email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com.

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