ANNAPOLIS – A bill requiring children under age 6 to use safety seats awaits the governor’s signature after being passed by the Maryland General Assembly the last week of session.
The measure, which would take effect Oct. 1, 2003, narrows the gap in Maryland child safety restraint laws and applies only to vehicles registered in the state. The $25 fine may be waived if parents prove they obtained a booster seat after being cited.
Under current Maryland law, and in most states, children under 4 must use safety seats in motor vehicles, but after age 4, children may use adult seat belts.
That law doesn’t protect older children, who, research shows, still need more restraint than an adult seat belt provides.
After 4 years or 40 pounds, children typically outgrow traditional child seats and use vehicle seat belts, which don’t fit properly, said Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, House bill sponsor.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends safety seats for children up to 80 pounds and 4-feet-9-inches tall. Booster seats, it said, “can help prevent injury by making adult-sized seat belts fit correctly.”
The agency testified at the bills’ hearing that lap belts can ride over a child’s stomach and the shoulder belt can cut across a child’s neck, resulting in serious or fatal injuries, including damage to spinal columns, spinal cords, livers, spleens and bowels.
Bronrott and Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, first introduced the legislation last year, but it died in the House Commerce and Government Matters committee.
Although the sponsors wanted 6-year-olds included, as in their original bill, both are “delighted” the measure passed this year.
Two years, Bronrott said, is a short time to get new legislation passed.
“This is a great victory,” Bronrott said. “(The law) lets kids be kids and not memories.”
Forehand said she is already thinking about extending the bill, including gradually phasing in booster requirements for older children.
Both sponsors said they hope that as the pubic is educated about booster seat benefits, parents will elect to use them even if it’s not a law.
“People,” Forehand said, “just don’t realize the gravity of the issue.”