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New law hardly child’s play

Mon., June 11, 2007, midnight

Parents seem befuddled and disillusioned by child passenger safety laws that took effect this month.

But law enforcement officers are on the streets trying to educate adults about the regulations and why it’s important to properly secure children in vehicles.

Children younger than 13 must ride in the back seat and booster seats are required until they are 4-foot-9 or 8 years old.

And Idaho residents should take note – living out-of-state isn’t license to evade Washington’s child passenger safety laws.

Jessica Brown, of Spokane, who has 8- and 13-year-old sons, said putting an age limit on when a child can sit in the front seat doesn’t make sense. “To me it’s more about weight and height,” she said.

One father, whom Spokane police Officer John Gately pulled over Thursday, explained his rationale for not using a booster seat: “We have six kids, and it’s never been like that before.”

Following are some answers to questions about the new law:

Q. Can police stop a vehicle for the primary reason a child is not secured properly?

A. Yes.

Q. Can an officer stop a vehicle if he or she thinks a child in the front seat is younger than 13?

A. Yes. “When you look at people all day, you get pretty good at figuring out how old they are,” Gately said.

Q. Why is there an age limit?

A. Children have more developed muscles and bones by 13. Any distance that you put between the crash and child is less harmful because the car absorbs more of the force, said Spokane police Officer Teresa Fuller.

Q. Is there a weight limit when it comes to a booster seat?

A. No. It’s a height issue.

Q. Why is there a height limit?

A. Seat belts are designed for people who are 4-foot-9 and taller, Fuller said.

Q. So then, why does the age apply?

A. The muscular and skeletal development of a 9-year-old is better than that of a younger child, Fuller said. But also, a line had to be drawn somewhere because some adults aren’t 4-foot-9. Fuller said when officers do car safety checks, they don’t find very many 8-year-olds who are 4-foot-9.

Q. What are the exceptions for allowing an underage child to ride in the front seat?

A. Fuller said if there are only lap belts in the back seat and there are shoulder and lap belts in the front seat, then it’s safer in front. If it’s an extended-cab truck and the seats face the inside of the truck, then it’s safer for the child to ride in front.

Q. Can children ride in a truck bed if all seat belts are being used within the vehicle? If so, do they need to be secured?

A. Yes. “But it’s terribly unsafe,” said Spokane police Officer Jennifer DeRuwe. There are no restrictions for how a child should be secured.

Q. Should people buy car seats at garage sales?

A. No. There’s no way to know the history of the seat.


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