Ohio enforces booster-seat law

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

This summer, there are no car-seat graduations for Ohio's 4-year-olds who top 40 pounds.

Law-enforcement officers have begun ticketing parents who fail to use booster seats for children ages 4 to 8 who are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches.

"Families are traveling, they're going on vacations. This is the time to remind them," said Nichole Hodges of the Center for Injury Research & Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "It's not about weight for these kids - it's height."

A six-month grace period for the booster-seat law ended in April, and the State Highway Patrol has written more than 125 citations since then, according to patrol data. The violation is a secondary offense, meaning that motorists can't be stopped for breaking the booster-seat law unless they've also committed a primary offense, such as speeding. Fines range from $25 to $75.

Hodges and other safety advocates agree that booster-seat awareness seems to be increasing. But enforcement is needed to speed up the practice so that older children are just as protected as the youngest, they say.

Before Ohio's booster-seat law was passed, national safety groups said the state had a dismal record, with less than 20 percent of children ages 4 to 8 riding in booster seats.

For many parents, having kids outgrow the smaller car seats came to be seen as "a rite of passage," Hodges said. "When, actually, putting them in adult seat belts was making them less safe."

Trooper Jose Franco of the West Jefferson post said he recently cited a father whose daughter was hurt in a crash on Rt. 142. "The child was injured due to the fact that she was not in a booster seat," Franco said.

Booster seats elevate young children and save them from "seat-belt syndrome," the name given to a variety of injuries -- some devastating -- that occur from adult-size shoulder straps and lap belts resting on little necks and bellies.

When crashes occur, children wearing adult seat belts can suffer bruised abdomens, lacerated livers and fractures.

Still, Franco said, many parents don't like being told that they have to buy another type of seat. "People feel that we're infringing on their rights," he said.

Lt. Chad McGinty of the patrol post in Mount Gilead said most of the drivers cited so far acknowledge that they knew about the law. "They were mostly 5- and 6-year-olds, and the folks were aware," he said.

Many of the adults say they have a booster seat in another car; McGinty said some troopers have had them call home so that someone else can bring it to the scene.

Hodges said she's hopeful that parents will soon realize that there are no excuses. "Car seats became ingrained eventually," she said. "This will, too."

For more information, go to www.boostohiokids.org, www.safekidscentralohio.org or call the Columbus Public Health car-seat hot line at (614) 645-7748.