According to the California Department of Public Health, motor vehicle crashes is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 12 years old in California, killing more than 1,000 children each year. Parents in California may not realize their children are improperly secured in a car due to recent changes in the law. Prior to 2012, the law stated that children younger than 6 or weighing less than 60 pounds had to be secured in a child restraint in the backseat. The new law extends the requirement to age 8 and a height of 4-foot-9. Familiarizing yourself with the details of this new law can protect you from hefty fines, and it might even save your child's life.
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In 2012, legislators passed a law that required all children younger than 8 to be secured into a car seat or booster seat in the back seat of a vehicle. Additionally, children 8 and older, or who have reached the height of 4-foot-9, may use a regular seat belt if it fits as follows: The seat belt should fit low on the hips, touching the upper thighs, with the shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest. If the seat belt doesn't fit properly, the child must remain in a booster seat. Improperly restrained children younger than the age of 16 can mean a fine of more than $475, charges of child endangerment and a point on the offender's driver's license. Some exemptions exist for riding in the front seat, such as if the back seats are all taken by younger children or if there is no rear seat; however, children are prohibited from sitting in the front if the passenger side airbags are active.
In addition to the 2012 law, the 2013 Child Car Seat Installation, Inspection and Instruction Law requires all hospitals and birthing centers to advise parents on the current law prior to discharge. Assembly Bill 1452 mandates that parents be notified about where restraint systems can be inspected and installed properly at no cost. Fire stations often provide this service.
Installing the Seat
Once your child has outgrown his car seat, he will need to sit in a booster seat until he reaches the age and/or height requirements of California law. It is important that the booster seat be installed properly. The booster seat should elevate your child so that the safety strap fits comfortably across his chest. The lap belt should fit low over the hips, and your child's knees should bend at the edge of the seat when he sits all the way back. Additionally, the shoulder belt should never be placed under the arm or behind the back.
Protecting Younger Children
Children younger than age 1 are required to sit in a rear-facing car seat, though the recommendation is to remain rear-facing until the age of 2. Harness straps should be snug and unable to be pinched; the chest clip should be armpit height. The seat should not move more than an inch to the sides. Before graduating to a booster seat, children should remain in a forward-facing car seat until they reach the top weight and height recommendations by the seat's manufacturer.