Does your child need to sit in a safety seat? New laws take effect Jan. 1

December 29, 2018

Parents are readying this week for a new law that will take effect that expands car seat safety in the state.

On Jan. 1, 2019, changes adopted with the passage of LB 42 by the Nebraska Legislature in 2018, will go into effect.

Bobbi Kuhlman, of the Scottsbluff Police Department, has been a car seat technician for eight years. She says the changes are good, although she said they do not have as strong of guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and car seat safety advocacy organizations.

Changes going into effect:

— All children up to age 8 must ride correctly secured in a federally-approved child safety seat.

“Most kids need to be in a booster seat up to age 11 or 12, depending on their weight and height. Most children won’t fit properly, with the seat belt properly positioned, until they are 4-foot, 9 inches,” Kuhlman said. “Some kids may also have development issues that they can’t fit in an adult seat as they should, as well.”

A safety belt is properly positioned when a person is sitting with the lower back and bottom up against the seat, sitting up straight with the knees bent comfortably at the end of the seat and the lap belt fitting across the hips and thighs and the shoulder belt crossing between the shoulder and neck.

When kids are slouching in a seat, the seat belt will fit improperly, going over the abdomen, which can result in internal injuries if a crash occurs, Kuhlman said. If a child places a shoulder belt behind them, rather than across the front, they can incur injuries from striking the back of the seat.

“For small children, the damage caused can be fatal,” she said.

— Children are required to ride rear-facing until up to age 2 or until they reach the upper weight or height limit allowed by the car seat’s manufacturer.

Guidelines regarding infants and toddlers sitting in a rear-facing seat until up to age 2 often results in a lot of questions, Kuhlman said.

“I get a lot of questions about where do their (childrens’) legs go,” she said.

Anyone with an infant or a toddler knows that often, the children are moving their legs in the air as they sit and are generally comfortable. She said she tells parents who are concerned about shoes scuffing seat backs to put a towel or other covering on the seat.

Though the law only requires a child to sit in a rear-facing seat until the age of 2, safety experts recommend that a child sit facing the rear as long as possible, usually around three or four years of age. Kuhlman said she herself didn’t change her daughter from a rear-facing seat until she was one month from her third birthday.

Many rear-facing seats are now designed to allow children to be rear-facing until they are 40 pounds and 40-inches tall.

“We all know that children are different shapes and sizes,” she said, noting that children may reach the requirements at different ages. “But, one thing I ask parents, would you rather have your child suffer a broken leg in a crash, which can heal faster, or a broken neck, which could be fatal or result in paralysis? Leave them rear-facing as long as you can.”

— Children under age 8 must ride in the back seat, as long as there is a back seat equipped with a seat belt and it is not already occupied by other children under 8 years of age.

Children should ride in the back seat of a vehicle, primarily because of the damage that can be caused by deploying air bags. Kuhlman said that children can suffer head and neck injuries. In the 1990s, she said, there were instances where children were decapitated by airbags. According to a Sept. 18, 1996, New York Times article, the National Transportation Safety Board reported 21 children had been killed during a two-year period by passenger side air bags. Air bags are designed to save the life of an adult.

“Children should be in the backseat, as long as one is available,” Kuhlman said. “If you are a family of five, you own a sedan and you are stopped, we are not going to cite you. However, if there is a back seat available and you have it loaded with your laundry or your groceries and your child is in the front seat, you will be cited.”

Other changes are:

— Children up to 18 must ride secured in a safety belt or safety seat/booster seat.

— Childcare providers must transport all children securely in an appropriate federally-approved child safety seat or safety belt.

— Children up to age 18 are prohibited from riding in cargo areas.

Each violation carries a $25 fine, plus court costs, and one point is assessed against the operator’s driving record.

Oftentimes, Kuhlman said, parents will question seat belt guidelines for children because of convenience or other issues.

“When it comes down to it, what is important is what is safest for your child. Safety is always first.”

Getting help with your car seat questions

The changes have spurred a lot of questions on a topic that parents, grandparents or other caregivers often find confusing.

Each month, car seat technicians at the Scottsbluff Police Department and Scottsbluff Fire Department are available on the fourth Saturday of every month (except for the month of December because of the Christmas holiday) for help with their car seat safety questions. Kuhlman said technicians are on hand from 9 a.m. to noon. Car seat safety checks for the month of December will be held today (Dec. 29). Dates are already set for 2019, and January’s check will be held on Jan. 26.

Expectant parents are asked to plan a car seat check four to six weeks before their due date. Kuhlman said technicians have had parents show up as a mother is en route to the hospital, already in labor, or dad or a grandparent have shown up as mom and baby are waiting to be discharged. Planning ahead is best, she said.

“We all know that babies do not have watches so it’s best to have it taken care of before your due date,” Kuhlman said.

During the safety seat checks, technicians will check to make sure that the safety seat is the proper seat for the child, the proper seat for the car or in the proper position in the vehicle and that it is properly installed. Children should come to the safety seat check.

Some safety seats are on hand, which Kuhlman said are purchased with grants and donations. People receiving a seat are asked to contribute as much as they can, but if they are unable to afford a seat, one will be available.

The program gladly accepts donations to be able to continue to offer seats to people who need them.

Expanding car seat safety

The Scottsbluff Police Department will continue helping to expand the availability of car seat technicians in the community with dates already announced for a car seat technician training. Car seat technician training will be held March 27-30.

The cost of the training is $85 for the national certification program and $100 for local fees. The local fee will be waived for technicians who agree to volunteer at car seat events throughout the year, Kuhlman said.

To sign up for the training, visit cert.safekids.org.

For more information about the car seat technician training or the car seat safety program at the Scottsbluff Police Department, contact Kuhlman, 308-630-6261.

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