Help! My Kid and I Are Lawbreakers

One of the biggest changes in auto laws in 2012 is the requirement that children younger than 8 or under 4 feet, 9 inches tall remain in a booster seat in the rear of the car.

Last week on Moms Talk, Maaliea Wilbur posed the question, Here’s what some folks had to say:

Breastfeeding in public should be tolerated, depending on the situation. I would think the mother would rather be in her car feeding her child rather than expose herself to public scrutiny.

I think breastfeeding in public is appropriate. It can easily be done discreetly to minimize embarrassment to both the mother and passers-by. I imagine most mothers would prefer to breastfeed in a private place, but when baby is hungry, she needs to eat!

Although one of the photos accompanying the column was a bit revealing for me, I stick by my response. This photo showed a nursing mother who was somewhat exposed, but she was in her hospital room, so I don’t see how anyone would be bothered by that. When moms are out and about with baby, it is easy to be discreet with a nursing top, sling, blanket, burp cloth, sweatshirt, button-up blouse, or even a diaper! And if a mom is really concerned about covering up, she can always get a Hooter Hider from Los Gatos-based company Bébé Au Lait.

Now on to the pressing question of the day: Are you and your second-grader breaking the law?

Now that it’s 2012, California law requires all children under the age of eight or under 4 feet 9 inches tall to ride in a child booster seat placed in the back seat.

This topic is near and dear to my heart—in fact, my first Moms Talk column in May 2011 was on this very subject. At the time, the state law said children had to ride in a child safety seat in the rear of the car until they were six or 60 pounds. Now that they’ve upped the ante, my younger daughter (who is 6 and still 37 pounds and 42 inches tall) is even farther away from ditching her car seat.

I’m glad they’ve raised the minimum age. I know a lot of 6-year-olds who are nowhere near 60 pounds or 57 inches tall. I’m also glad they switched the focus from weight to height, which seems more relevant when you’re talking about seatbelt positioning, and is also more in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics child safety seat guidelines.

I do have a question, though—what about all those under 4-foot-9-inch 6-year-olds who legally tossed their booster seats last year? Do they need to fish them out of the dumpster now?

And since the law apparently still includes the “or” (although when I went to the DMV website to look up the text of the law I only found a reference to the age, not the height requirement), making sure you don’t get a $100 ticket for a first-time offense could be tricky. Should we start carrying measuring tapes and our kids’ birth certificates in our cars?

I’m still going to err on the side of safety. I want my little one to stay in a booster seat until she’s 57 inches tall. Hopefully that will happen before she reaches high school … In case it doesn't, I'll keep the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's list of top-rated booster seats bookmarked on my cell phone.

Are you and your second-grader breaking the law?

Deborah Johnson January 20, 2012 at 05:08 AM
I am in total agreement with you Dyan. My son is 4ft 4', 7 years old and 75lbs. Last year (because he was well above 60 lbs), he did not officially need a booster seat. I found this ridiculous because without the booster, it was so obvious that his 4ft 4' frame was still not high enough to prevent the seat belt from cutting at the neck. I have been in a major car crash with my son in the car and all I can say is that while I came away with an injured back and lots of cuts and bruises, he was untouched - all thanks to a good car seat (5 point harness at the time). I gained a whole new respect for car seats after that day. I do however empathize with Maaelia - car seats are such a pain to lug around - one of those minor inconveniences of life with young kids!
Dyan Chan January 20, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Thank you, Deborah. I didn't get into this in this column, but the thought behind the law is still bewildering to me. I don't think the age of the child has any bearing at all upon whether or not the seatbelt hits him in the right place. (Unless the age is a minimum age requirement (i.e. "you must use a booster seat until you are at least 8 years old") because of knowledge about appropriate muscle and bone development or something. But I don't think it is.
Dyan Chan January 20, 2012 at 10:10 PM
By the way, I conducted a quick survey on my Facebook asking folks when their kids reached 57 inches tall, and the age range I've gotten was "8 or 9" to 13!
Dyan Chan January 20, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Also, I received this comment via email: "I hadn't heard about the new law. Good to know. The downside that immediately comes to mind for me is carpooling. By age 8, kids are spending more time in other people's cars. At my daughter's Charter school, everyone was in an elaborate carpool because the school was on the edge of town. With one family dropping off and another family picking up, is the school going to need to have a designated car seat storage area?"
Dyan Chan January 20, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Booster seats are inconvenient, but as Batman said, "Never sacrifice safety for speed." I know lots of parents (myself included) who carry around an extra booster seat or two in case an impromptu playdate arises. When my daughter is going to go home from school with a friend, I ask if I should drop off her seat or if they have an extra. It hasn't been a problem. And luckily booster seats are much easier to move from car to car than child car seats that require LATCH or that climbing-into-the-seat-and-ratcheting-down-the-seatbelt craziness!


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