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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Safety seats now needed until age 7

Betsy Z. Russell And Taryn Brodwater Staff writers

Kerie Baker’s daughter Rylee will turn 6 in August, and the 25-year-old Boise mom thought she was all done with car seats – Rylee hasn’t used one since she turned 5.

“I got rid of it, gave it to my friend,” Baker said.

But Idaho’s new law – which took effect Friday – now requires safety seats for 5- and 6-year-olds, too. “I’m going to have to buy a new car seat again,” Baker sighed on Friday. “She’s not going to be happy, I know that.”

Parents across Idaho are facing the same challenge, but safety experts say it’s well worth the hassle. “This law will help protect more of Idaho’s children,” said Greg Fredericksen of the Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Traffic and Highway Safety. “There’s a critical time when kids have outgrown safety seats but are still too small to use seat belts alone. Booster seats bridge this gap and protect kids in the event of a crash.”

Booster seats, which come with and without backs, lift the child up so the regular lap and shoulder belts will work for them.

Nationally, car accidents are the leading cause of death for children age 4 to 7. In Idaho, car crashes were the leading cause of death in 2003 for kids age 1 to 9. From 2001 to 2003, said Fredericksen, nine Idaho youngsters age 4 to 8 died and 73 were seriously injured in car crashes.

The Coeur d’Alene Target store increased its inventory of booster seats in anticipation of the new law. “It’s been a very busy department,” said Rachelle Hose, sales floor manager. She said stores in other states have reported an “enormous increase” in booster seat sales after similar laws went into effect, and her store received word about a month ago saying it had better increase its supplies.

Coeur d’Alene’s ShopKo store had two pallets of booster seats on display last week, with both models on sale for less than $20 and a poster advertising the new law.

“We are going to enforce the new law,” said Idaho State Police Capt. Wayne Longo. He said his department has worked the new law into its recent public safety presentations. Violators face $60 fines.

The Post Falls Police Department had a children’s fair at its station on Father’s Day that included safety checks to make sure car seats were installed correctly. Post Falls Sgt. Pat Knight said several people asked questions about the new law, but he said he thinks many people aren’t aware of it yet. “Some are still trying to catch up with the 4 and 40 law,” he said.

Baker, the Boise mom, was caught by surprise by the new law. She’d heard about it, but figured that with Rylee turning 6 in August, it wouldn’t apply. However, the new law covers 6-year-olds until their 7th birthday. That’s something parents are just starting to realize, said Joanna Adams, supervisor and program manager in the Health Promotion Division at the Panhandle Health District.

The health district recently trained several members of law enforcement and emergency workers to be licensed child safety seat technicians, Adams said. “Those technicians now have the latest information through the training to check seats to see if they are the right ones and see … that the seat is properly installed,” she said.

Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls police, as well as Kootenai County and Coeur d’Alene fire departments, have trained technicians, Adams said. Parents can call any of those agencies to set up an appointment for a free child safety seat inspection.

In general, infants under 20 pounds need a rear-facing infant seat; toddlers 20 to 40 pounds need an upright, forward-facing child safety seat with harness; and children 40 to 80 pounds need a booster seat that works with existing shoulder and lap belts in the vehicle. All should be placed in the back seat.

Jenni Anderson of Boise bought new car seats for two of her five children – including 5-year-old Sophie – a month ago, “before I knew the law was coming.”

“I had just been thinking about it myself and just kept looking at them, going, ‘You guys, what if something happened?’ I kept asking myself that,” she said.

The 35-year-old mom, who also has two younger and two older children, noticed that when Sophie dozed off in the back seat, she’d end up leaning over onto the car door. “I kept thinking, ‘This isn’t good,’ ” Anderson said.

“Then I was at the baby store, and I noticed they had good ones for bigger kids. They’ve come a long ways since the last time I looked at car seats, so I got them. I just wanted ‘em to be safe.”

Sophie resisted at first, but then decided she liked the cushy “memory foam” in her new seat. “She’s good with it now,” Anderson said. “Ever since I put ‘em in the car seat, I’ve felt a lot more peace of mind.”

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