On January 1, 2012, the California law regarding child restraints in vehicles changed, and suddenly, 6- and 7-year-olds who thought they had “graduated” from their car seats were sent right back into them.
The new law states that children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the backseat. Children under the age of 8 who are 4’ 9" or taller may be secured by a safety belt in the backseat.
The law is intended to make children safer. In fact, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) says the risk injury is reduced by 33 percent when children move to the backseat. Despite the facts, parents may have difficulties getting older kids to understand why they’re being forced back into to their car seats and boosters.
Trieva Scanlan, MD, a Scripps pediatrician, thinks the best approach to getting reluctant children to accept the new law is straightforward honesty. “Children who are between 6 and 8 are old enough to understand reason. So parents need to tell them there are two very good reasons to get into the booster seat,” she says. “First, it will keep them safe if something bad should happen while mom or dad is driving, because they could get hurt if there were and accident without the booster seat. And second, it would cost a lot of money if a police officer saw them in the front seat or out of a booster seat and their parents got a ticket.”
Dr. Scanlan thinks bribery isn't a good approach to gain compliance. “Be firm, be consistent, be logical and don’t engage in argument,” she advises.
While the new law applies to most cars and children, there are a few exceptions. According to the CHP, children may continue to ride in a front seat if:
- A vehicle has no rear seats
- The only available rear seats are side-facing jump seats
- A child restraint system cannot be installed properly in the rear seat
- Children under the age of 12 occupy all rear seats
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates that nationwide, 82 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly. If you have questions about whether your car seat or booster seat is as secure as it should be, visit one of several free car seat inspection sites run by police and highway patrol personnel.