2003-03-01 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

When traveling in motor vehicles, providing for children's safety is more than telling them to keep their head and hands inside the car. An essential item for insuring safety is a child safety seat; it may mean the difference between a safe comfortable ride and a fatal injury.

In 1982, New York's first child passenger restraint law went into effect. It mandated the use of child safety seats for children less than four years of age. Subsequently, in 1985, New York enacted the seat belt law that includes a mandate for the use of federally approved child safety seats for children under four years of age. On the federal level, as of September 1, 2002, all new child safety seats and new motor vehicles, except convertibles, are required to come equipped with lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH). LATCH makes it possible to install a child safety seat more easily without using an adult safety belt. It is expected to reduce, by approximately 50 percent, the incorrect installation of child safety seats.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), properly used child safety seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71 percent for infants under one-year old and by 54 percent for toddlers age one to four. Unfortunately, child safety seats are not always properly installed. Improper installation will often occur because not all child safety seats are compatible with all makes and models of motor vehicles. This results in a reduction of the child safety seat's potential benefit for a child.

To help consumers make informed choices regarding the compatibility between a child safety seat and a motor vehicle, I will reintroduce a bill, which passed the Assembly last year, that mandates that manufacturers of child safety seats provide consumers with important information regarding child safety seats and their proper use. This bill will require all manufacturers of child safety seats sold in New York State to display a label on the packaging stating that not all child safety seats are compatible with all motor vehicles. The label will also warn parents to avoid placing child safety seats in the front seat of motor vehicles equipped with air bags.

Once you have found a child safety seat that is compatible with your motor vehicle, there are four steps to follow as your child grows to determine the appropriateness of the seat. As set forth by NHTSA, the four steps of child passenger safety are: 1) Rear-facing infant seats in the back seat are for infants from birth to at least one year old and at least 20 pounds; 2) Forward-facing toddler seats in the back seat are for toddlers from age one to about age four and 20 to 40 pounds; 3) Booster seats in the back seat are for children from about age four and 40 pounds to at least age eight, unless 4'9"; and 4) Safety belts are for children at age eight or older or taller than 4'9". It also recommends that all children twelve and under ride in the back seat.

In addition to conducting your own research into the compatibility and appropriateness of a child safety seat, there are sites where child care providers can have their child safety seats inspected and correctly installed by a certified child passenger safety technician. You can find an inspection location by visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration web-site (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) and clicking on the "Child Safety Seat Inspections" link. If you do not have web access, you can call (888) DASH-2-DOT.

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