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New California Child Restraint Law for 2012

As of January 1, 2012, all children under eight years of age and under 4’ 9” must be restrained in a rear seat in an appropriate child passenger restraint system that meets applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. This modifies the previous law, which required children under six years of age who weigh less than sixty pounds to be secured in a child passenger restraint system.

The new law is the result of Senate Bill 929 introduced by State Senator Noreen Evans who represents the Second Senatorial District. Senate Bill 929 implements the recommendations of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). The NHTSA recommends that children who have outgrown car seats with an internal harness continue to ride in booster seats until they reach age eight years or until they are 4’ 9” or taller. According to the NHTSA, booster seats help to ensure that the safety belt is positioned properly across the child and restrains, rather than injures, the child in the event of an accident.

The child advocacy group, Partners for Child Passenger Safety (“PCPS”), reports that car collisions are the leading cause of death and acquired disability in children between the ages of four and eight. It has been proven that booster seats save the lives of children by reducing their risk of injury and fatality related to automobile accidents. The PCPS cites statistics showing that booster seat use for children ages four through seven decreases the risk of injury by fifty-nine percent as compared to the use of seat belts alone.

Most parents who already have booster seats for their young children will not need to purchase new boosters. Rather, under the new law parents will simply keep their children in the same booster seat an additional two years.

This is the third time the Legislature has passed legislation requiring the use of booster seats until a child reaches age eight or 4’9” in height (AB 1290-Evans in 2006 and AB 881-Mullin in 2007). Both of those bills were vetoed by then Governor Schwarzenegger. In his veto message, Governor Schwarzenegger indicated the need to work towards compliance with existing requirements rather the enactment of new requirements. It appears the third time is the charm for this important legislation.

Heather K. Whitham

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