Kentucky, New Jersey and Oklahoma made updates to their Child Restraint Laws recently.
Here we’ll explain the updates in normal language, instead of legalese.
House Bill 315 amends KRS 189.125 for the “booster age” child. (I use quotes for “booster age” because there are alternatives to using a booster, mainly the RideSafer. Technically it should be called “belt positioning age” but that’s long and complicated so it hasn’t caught on.) This law went into effect on June 24, 2015.
What was it: Previously any child who is under 7 years old and is between 40 and 50 inches tall must be in a booster seat.
What is it now: Now it is any child who is under 8 years old and is between 40 and 57 inches tall must be in a booster seat. While we believe the intent of the law is to make sure children are riding safely in the vehicle and, if they are of “booster” age, the seat belt is properly fitted to the child which the Ride Safer® does without elevating the child. If the interpretation of the law is strictly that a booster seat must be used for children 4 to 8 years old, it would be illegal to transport them in any harness seat over 4 years of age which we know a 5-point harness seat or RideSafer, especially with a tether, is safer than a booster.
What was it: Children under 8 years of age who weigh less than 80 pounds must ride secured in a child restraint system or booster seat as described in FMVSS 213 in the rear seat of the vehicle. Children under 8 years of age who weigh more than 80 pounds must ride properly secured in a seat belt.
What is it now: Children must ride secured in a child restraint system or booster seat as described in FMVSS 213 in the rear seat of the vehicle. Children under the age of 2 and who weigh less than 30 pounds shall be secured in a rear-facing child restraint equipped with a 5-point harness. Children under the age of 4 and weighing less than 40 pounds must be secured in a rear-facing child restraint system equipped with a 5-point harness (until the child outgrows the top height or top weight recommendations of the child restraint) or in a forward-facing child restraint equipped with a 5-point harness. Children under the age of 8 and less than 57 inches tall must be secured in a forward-facing child restraint equipped with a 5-point harness (until the child outgrows the top height or top weight recommendations of the child restraint) or in a booster seat.
We believe you will be fine using your Ridesafer vest going forward even with these new changes to the law. It very much appears that the law is being updated to require children who are under 2 and under 30 pounds to be rear facing which is significantly safer for them and it looks like they are intending to keep 3-year-olds out of boosters.
The issue with younger children in boosters is that often a 3-year-old is not behaviorally ready to be in a booster specifically a backless booster (though many who talk about the topic never distinguish between the two) because there is virtually nothing to keep the shoulder belt on the shoulder when the child leans or wriggles, which is then putting them at higher risk of injury should a crash occur when the seat belt is out of position on the child.
The law repeatedly uses the language of “Child Restraint System” and the RideSafer is a FMVSS 213 certified Child Restraint System. The law also specifies a “5 point harness” and the RideSafer IS a harness restraint system (if you look at all the black webbing that is sewn into the vest) and is tested under the “Harness” criteria in FMVSS 213. One could argue that between the 3 points of the lap/shoulder belt and the two points of the tether you have 5 points and a harness and therefore meet the details of the law if one wanted to split hairs.
The reality is that the law is intended to influence behavior and reduce the number of improperly or unrestrained children. The RideSafer does not have the same issues for younger children as a booster does because it has a clip on the shoulder that keeps the seat belt properly positioned on the child even if the child moves around. In fact we would argue that the RideSafer is almost always a better choice for all “booster age” kids.
NJ State Police and NJ Attorney General’s office confirmed in December 2016, the RideSafer is legal in the state of NJ because it’s certified under FMVSS 213.
What was it: Children under six (6) years of age shall properly use a child passenger restraint system which meets the federal standards as set by FMVSS213. Children at least six (6) years of age but younger than thirteen (13) years of age shall be protected by use of a child passenger restraint system or a seat belt.
What is it now: Children must be secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system which meets the federal standards as set by FMVSS 213 until the age of 2 or until the child reaches the weight or height limit of the child restraint whichever occurs first. Children under 4 years old must be secured in a child passenger restraint system which meets the federal standards as set by FMVSS 213. Children from 4 to 8 years of age who are less than 4’9” tall need to be restrained in a child restraint system which meets the federal standards as set by FMVSS 213 or booster seat. Children who are 8 or older or taller than 4’9” need to be restrained with a vehicle seat belt.
Having talked to many police officers over our combined 25 years in the car seat world, we have never met one who would ticket a parent who was trying to do the right thing and using a certified product.
The sad reality is that those who are writing the laws do not always write them taking into account all variables and there is typically something left to interpretation. Sometimes in trying to be more specific, lawmakers leave things out or even make doing what is safest technically illegal. In some cases being vague like saying “all children under the age of 10 or under the height of 4’9″ should be properly restrained using a certified child restraint for their age, weight and height and based on best practice recommendations,” would be better. But even best practice recommendations would be left up to interpretation.
We often get questions about the legality of using this or that type of child restraint based on the language of the law. The sad thing is we never get questions about the legality of continuing to use a belt positioning device past the age of 8 (state child restraint laws typically say at 8, if not earlier, children must be restrained using a seat belt. And many don’t mention anything about being at least 4’9″ or add “or a child restraint”.
The reality is most 8-year-olds don’t properly fit the seat belt and won’t for another year or two or more. Even the new Oklahoma law says children who are 8 or taller than 4’9″, meaning if you are 8 or younger than 8 but tall enough, you need to be restrained with a seat belt. This would technically make continuing to use a booster seat illegal for an 8-year-old who was 4’2″. (My daughter who will be 8-years-old in a week is 4’2″ and there’s no way is she going into just a seat belt. She will stay in her RideSafer, thank you very much!)
You can read all the states’ Child Restraint Laws here (updated annually).
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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