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Colorado’s child passenger safety experts support new guidelines announced today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which advise parents and caregivers to keep children in the appropriate child safety restraint type — including rear-facing, forward-facing and booster seats — as long as children fit within the height and weight limits set by the car seat manufacturer. The new guidelines are consistent with the latest advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics and recommendations from CPS Team Colorado, the state’s network of certified child passenger safety technicians.
“For the best protection, there should be no rush in transitioning a child from one type of car seat to another, or from rear-facing to forward-facing. There are car seats on the market now that can accommodate children from birth through 65 pounds, and a few even higher to 80 pounds,” said Susan Yates, Colorado’s child passenger safety training coordinator, The Children’s Hospital. “It’s important to read the manufacturers’ instructions and pick a car seat or booster seat that fits your individual child and will keep them the safest.”
The new guidelines include keeping babies and toddlers in the rear-facing position until at least age 2 or until they reach the maximum weight and height limit set by the car seat manufacturer. This is recommended because the rear-facing position reduces stresses to the neck and spinal cord of developing babies during a crash.
The recommendations also support keeping children in a car seat with a harness until they reach the upper weight and height limits of the car seat. Then children should use a belt-positioning booster seat until they are at least 4-9, which could be up to 12 years old. And all children under 13 should ride in the back seat with seat belts.
Some of the new guidelines exceed the minimum requirements of Colorado’s child passenger safety law, which expanded as of Aug. 1, 2010 to require all children under age 8 to be properly protected in a child safety seat when traveling in a motor vehicle. In addition to expanding the use of booster seats, the revised law gives parents more flexibility in choosing the best safety seat for their child or baby, as long as they adhere to the upper weight and height limits set by the seat’s manufacturer and to follow installation instructions. However, the law does set the following minimum requirements:
Babies under 1-year-old and less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat and only in the back seat of the vehicle.
Once babies turn 1-year-old and weigh at least 20 pounds, the law gives them the option of using a front-facing car seat. Rear-facing car seats are still allowed by law and safety experts recommend that parents continue using them to the upper weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer because it provides the most protection.
Children ages 4, 5, 6 and 7 must continue to be protected in a child safety restraint. For most kids in this age group that means a booster seat, but experts recommend that children remain in a forward-facing car seat longer if the upper weight limit of the seat allows it (usually 40-50 pounds).
When a child turns 8, the law allows them to use a vehicle seat belt. But for the best protection, safety experts recommend that kids continue to use a booster seat until they are at least 4-9, which half of children will not reach until they are 11 years old.
The minimum fine is $82 per violation. All child passenger safety violations are primary enforcement. The one-year education period for booster seat violations ends Aug. 1, 2011.
To assist parents in determining the best child safety seat for their child and to make sure it is installed properly, there is a network of more than 140 “fitting stations” across the state as part of CPS Team Colorado. Most of the fit stations offer free assistance for parents, including car seat checks to make sure seats are installed properly. For parents facing financial hardship, some fit stations provide car seats at a reduced price or for a small donation. Parents can find a fit station closest to them by visiting www.carseatscolorado.com or calling toll free (877)LUV-TOTS or (303)239-4625 in Metro Denver.