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House committee approves revived booster seat measure

Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, voiced concern over the active role government would take upon passage of HB 2452. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Channing Turner)

Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, voiced concern over the active role government would take upon passage of HB 2452. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Channing Turner)

The House Transportation Committee unanimously endorsed a bill Thursday that would require children under 8 years old to ride in booster seats.

The National Transportation Safety Board has pressured states to enact booster-seat laws for 15 years. Arizona remains one of only three states that hasn’t.

Current law requires car seats for children 5 years or younger. HB 2452 would mandate booster seats for children up to age 8 or until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.

David Notrica, chief trauma surgeon at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, told the panel that kids who aren’t in booster seats often slip out of seat belts in accidents or suffer injuries from belts that don’t fit them properly.

“You’re talking about a very significant number of injured children each year,” he said.

Despite Thursday’s vote, the bill faces an uncertain future. Similar measures have repeatedly fizzled in past sessions amid concerns raised by some lawmakers that safety decisions should be left to parents.

Passage looked equally unlikely this session when a bill sponsored by Sens. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, and Al Melvin, R-Tucson, wasn’t taken up in committee. But Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, brought the proposal back through a strike-everything amendment to another bill.

Even though he voted for the measure, Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, said it fails to address a range of other vehicle-safety issues that contribute to injuries. Even a law wouldn’t necessarily change parents’ attitudes, he said.

“Government cannot go to someone’s home and make sure they buckle up,” Weiers said. “We keep hitting around the issue. We never address the issue itself.”

But Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, said current laws endanger children by requiring parents to put those older than 5 in seat belts.

“We are actually instructing parents to restrain their children in an unsafe manner,” she said. “What this bill does is change that.”

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, accused Weiers of planning to bottle up the bill in the Rules Committee, which he chairs. He said Weiers has consistently worked against legislation addressing traffic safety.

“Now that you’re the chair of the Rules Committee, you have the power to kill them. I’m tired of seeing that happen,” Farley said. “That seems inappropriate to me.”

When Williams asked earlier whether he would pass the bill through the Rules Committee in order to open it for debate on the House floor, Weiers answered curtly.

“I’m ready for a vote,” he said.

When casting his vote in favor, Weiers said Farley was out of line and noted that the Rules Committee has heard and endorsed a bill to ban minors from riding in the back of pickup trucks.

“As much as I don’t like government telling me what to do, I do understand that there are occasions where government needs to step in a little bit and make things happen,” Weiers said.

States that don’t require booster seats:

• Arizona
• Florida
• South Dakota

About booster seats:
• A belt-positioning booster seat raises a child so that the lap and shoulder safety belts fit correctly.
• A booster seat is recommended for children ages 4 to 8 years old or until children are 4 feet 9 inches tall.
• Booster seats require the use of both the lap and shoulder safety belt.
• Backless or low-back booster seats may be used when the vehicle’s seat back reaches to the top of the child’s ears and supports the child’s head.

Source: National Highway Transportation Safety Administration

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