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September 7, 2005

New Car Seat Law Clarified
DPS Urges Maximum Protection

There has been some confusion about a new state law that requires that all children younger than 5 years of age and less than 36 inches tall to be in a child safety seat system. ("Child safety seat system" includes car seats and booster seats, including high-back and backless boosters.)

"Parents need to remember the law sets forth minimum safety standards. In fact, experts recommend that most children need to continue in booster seats until they reach around 4 feet, 9 inches tall," said Col. Thomas Davis Jr., director of DPS. "We hope parents will not just look at the legal requirements, but also consider what is safest for their children."

Because of the changes in the wording of the law (HB183), the following legal interpretation should be applied:

The law also requires that safety seats be used according to the manufacturer's instructions, including height and weight guidelines.

A child in a poorly-fitting seat belt usually slumps down, allowing the seat belt to ride up into their abdomen or neck, which can cause severe injuries to the child's neck and internal organs during a car crash.

To know when a child can wear a seat belt properly without a booster seat, use this simple test:

Have your child sit on the vehicle seat, sitting all the way back, with their back straight against the back of the seat, and buckle the lap/shoulder belt over them.

  1. Do their legs bend naturally at the knees over the edge of the seat?
  2. Does the lap portion of the belt fit over the top of their thighs?
  3. Does the shoulder portion of the belt fit across the center of their chest?

If the answer to any of these three questions is no, the child may be better protected in a booster seat.

Although there is no law that prevents youngsters from sitting in the front seat of a vehicle, the safest place for a child in a car is in a rear seat, properly buckled into a child safety seat or a booster seat.

Air bags don't replace child safety seats and may increase the risk of serious injury to children. Children younger than 13 should never ride in the front seats of vehicles with active passenger air bags.

For more information on proper child seat installation and use, please see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/CPS/safetycheck/TypeSeats/.