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Lawmaker gives booster seat bill second chance despite opposition

A strike everything amendment to HB 2452 would require that children to use a booster seat until they are 8 years old or until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. At a safety fair in Peoria in 2009, then 5-year-old Destinee Tellef demonstrates how a booster seat helps position a seat belt on a child. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Daniel Newhauser)

A strike everything amendment to HB 2452 would require that children to use a booster seat until they are 8 years old or until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall. At a safety fair in Peoria in 2009, then 5-year-old Destinee Tellef demonstrates how a booster seat helps position a seat belt on a child. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Daniel Newhauser)

For 15 years, the National Transportation Safety Board has urged states to pass laws requiring children to ride in booster seats up to age 8 or until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.

But Arizona remains one of three states that doesn’t require the use of booster seats, as bills have repeatedly failed at the state Legislature. Current Arizona law requires child restraints until age 5.

This legislative session promised more of the same, with the latest bill, sponsored by Sens. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, and Al Melvin, R-Tucson, bottled up in the Senate. But now Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, has revived the proposal in a bill up for consideration Thursday by the House Transportation Committee.

“It doesn’t make sense the way our laws are right now,” Williams said. “There is a gap in our statues that is leaving children unprotected.”

The proposal, contained in a strike-everything amendment to HB 2452, which dealt with another subject, would require drivers of vehicles designed for 10 or fewer passengers to put children in booster seats if they are at least 5 years old and until they are 8 or at least 4 feet 9 inches tall.

The measure would exempt vehicles manufactured before 1972 or that aren’t required to have integrated lap and shoulder belts or lap belts.

SB 1084, the bill offered by Gray and Melvin, wasn’t going to be heard by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Transportation, the sponsors said.

“Certain people who are opposed to this bill say it’s creating a ‘nanny state’; they believe it’s an intrusion of their personal rights,” Melvin said. “But I’m interested in saving lives, the lives of young children.”

Michelle Donati, a spokeswoman for AAA Arizona, she said kids under the height of 4 feet 9 inches are simply too small for adult-size seat belts.

“When children are too small for a seat belt and they are in a crash, they can slide under the seat belt or the seat belt itself can cause extreme injury,” Donati said.

While opponents insist that it’s not the responsibility of the government to enforce parenting, Donati said, a AAA public opinion poll found that 92 percent of parents said states have an obligation to enforce safety measures to protect children who aren’t able to protect themselves.

“Parents look to laws for guidance for what they should do to protect their children,” she said. “Many parents are unknowingly putting their children in harm’s way because they follow the law, and currently there is a loophole in the law.”

Gray said her main objective is spreading the word that booster seats save lives.

“The more that can be written about the issue the better,” she said.

Stephanie Davis, a spokeswoman for the NTSB, said that in previous years another point of opposition has been imposing the cost of booster seats on families. But she said there are booster seats within everyone’s budget.

“A booster seat can cost as little as $20,” Davis said. “You don’t need to have the fancy schmancy brand to make your child safer.”

At a recent car seat check held at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, Tracey Fejt, injury-prevention specialist for Banner Health, said the safest place for a child who has graduated from a car seat is a booster seat.

“The No. 1 killer of our children is motor vehicle crashes,” Fejt said. “A lot of parents don’t realize that cars were made for adults, they were never ever intended for children.”

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