Jim Adler & Associates believes child passenger safety in vehicles should be a top concern of every American. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says traffic accidents are the top cause of children’s deaths, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says almost 250,000 kids are injured yearly in auto accidents.
Many child deaths and injuries can be avoided — and a good place to start is heeding child safety laws.
What constitutes child safety? When it comes to safety seats or booster seats, in part that depends on the child. Different safety seats or booster seats are required for children of different ages and sizes, and laws governing them vary from state to state.
Texas law for child safety seats holds that children less than 8 years of age and less than 4 feet, 9 inches (57 inches) tall must be secured in a child safety seat. However, if a child is more than 57 inches tall, a safety seat isn’t required, even if he or she is less than 8 years old.
As for children 8 to 17 years old, like adults, they must be secured by an adult-level safety belt, and no form of car safety seat is necessary.
The type of safety seat used also depends on the child.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) says a child less than 1 year old must have a rear-facing safety seat befitting his or her weight and height. Also called an “infant seat,” such seats can be locked into a base that drivers install in their vehicle.
Further, the DPS says children 1-4 years old must have a “toddler seat,” which is larger. Drivers are advised to keep this safety seat rear-facing for children up to 2 years old, but after that it can be forward-facing.
Child passengers 4-8 years old must have a “booster seat.” By providing a boost in height for the child, this seat can function as a unit with a vehicle’s seat belts, which are designed for an adult’s body.
Any child weighing 35 pounds or less, by Texas law, must be secured safely in a back seat, not a front seat, and must be secured in a rear-facing car seat. A child weighing over 35 pounds must be secured in the back seat but can be sitting in a forward-facing car seat. Children weighing 100 pounds or more or topping 57 inches in height can ride in the front seat or back seat and use adult safety belts.
The CDCP says securing a child properly in a car seat can lower the risk of death by 71 per cent for infants 1 year or under and 54 per cent for children 1-4.
While everyone in a vehicle is required by law to wear a safety belt, violations cost more for children. Fines may be $25 to $50 for children 15-17, but for younger children fines can go up to $200.
Just because you buy the right child safety seat doesn’t mean the job is done. Many child safety seats are improperly installed — as many as 70%, by some estimates. So enlist the help of the store where you purchased the seat to ensure that it’s installed properly.
If it isn’t, your child could be injured. Even if your child isn’t injured, you could be fined $25 for a first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses.
Texas also has a child safety law banning the use of handheld cell phones by drivers in school zones — to talk or text.
However, for that law to be in effect, signs must be posted in the school zone to alert drivers. While some large school districts such as San Antonio’s and Dallas’ have bought and installed the signs, Houston has yet to do so, citing a cost of $2.3 million to do so.
Operators of school buses are prohibited by Texas law from using a cell phone while driving if children are present. And child drivers under 18 years old are prohibited from using any wireless communications device.
It is also illegal in Texas to leave a child unattended in a vehicle for over five minutes if the child is less than 7 years old — illegal and dangerous. Children can die from heat stroke if left inside vehicles on hot days, even if the windows are cracked.
Drivers should be keenly aware of children’s presence when backing out of a driveway. Many children have been killed when adults began driving without ensuring a child wasn’t playing behind them.
No child under 18 should ride in the exposed bed of a pickup truck. Fines range from $25 to $200.
In addition, though adult motorcyclists are not required by Texas law to wear a protective helmet, their child passengers must have one.
Observing such laws and taking such precautions can help you protect the most precious cargo of your vehicle: child passengers.