Washington State's Car Seat Law Updates Might Not Be Popular With Tweens

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The new car seat laws in Washington State align with AAP guidelines, but they might be hard for kids to get used to

This month, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a new car seat bill into law that safety experts believe will save kids from injury and death – but it will also require some kids to sit in a booster until middle school. When it goes into effect on January 1, 2020, it will be one of the strictest car seat laws in the country, but it will also align with the 2011 car seat guidelines put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Under the new laws, kids under the age of 2 must be in rear-facing car seats, unless they exceed the maximum height or weight allowed for rear-facing seats.

Children ages 2-4 must use forward-facing harness seats, unless they reach the maximum height or weight for the seats, according to the manufacturer.

Children older than four but younger than 16 should use a booster seat until they are 57 inches tall (4’9″) – most kids will need a booster until they are 10 to 12 years old – and some for longer. Children under the age of 13 must sit in the back seat of the vehicle.

Before these laws, only children under the age of 8 were required to sit in a car seat or booster seat.

Parents who don’t have their child properly restrained can be ticketed, though the amount of the ticket wasn’t specified. These laws don’t apply in the cases of buses, taxis, or shuttles.

“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. “This change brings us in line with current best thinking about keeping kids safe.”

Ebel, who cares for injured kids at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, has testified in the past for stricter car seat laws.

“Harborview is the only Level 1 regional trauma center for children who have life-threatening injuries,” she said. “Catastrophic car-crash injuries we’ve seen to children’s brains, organs and nervous systems might have been preventable had the child been buckled in the correct car seat.”

She also said that she often sees kids ages 8-12 with serious car accident injuries even when the vehicle was traveling at slow speeds before a collision. These injuries are, she believes, totally preventable – it’s just that seat belts are made for adults, not kids.

“When I talk to parents about child safety, they say, ‘Why isn’t this the law?’” Ebel said. “Now that Washington law is updated, more families will follow these guidelines and more kids will come home safe. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important.”

While some parents are not pleased with the idea that their teens might be forced back onto boosters, it’s worth remembering that there used to be way fewer car seat laws – and way more kids killed in car accidents. It’s been proven that rear-facing seats, booster seats, and back seat sitting saves kids’ lives.

Even though the AAP has been recommending these laws since 2011, most state car seat laws are less strict, with many only requiring car safety devices other than seat belts for kids under the age of 8. Only South Carolina specifies that kids can only ride with a lap and shoulder belt (and no booster) if the belts fall across the correct parts of the kid’s body. Guam, a U.S. territory, requires boosters for any kid under 11 who is under 57 inches.

These laws may take some getting used to, but it really makes sense to base them on height and weight, and not on age – because a kid’s size is really what determines when they’ll be safe riding with just lap and shoulder belts.

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