Washington`s Changing Stance on Driving with Kids

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Car Seats, Booster Seats, and Seat Belts...Washington`s Changing Stance on Driving with Kids
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 6/3/2019

CarSeatBlogPost06032019.JPGThe last few decades have brought forth incredible advancements in the area of vehicle safety for children. Before the new millennium, it wasn’t uncommon for kids (or pretty much anyone) to drive unbelted. Over the years, Washington has slowly added new laws to help protect kids from the inherent dangers of moving vehicles. From Washington’s “Click it or Ticket” law (RCW 46.61.688) to Washington’s child passenger restraint law (RCW 46.61.687), there is a lot to know to stay legal and safe.

When it comes to children, even recently the standards of changed. The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated their recommendations. Now, instead of the previous guideline – in a rear-facing seat until two years old – the AAP has recommended that children stay rear facing until they meet the height or weight requirements described in the car seat manual. This means that children over two will likely stay rear facing much longer than before.

This change is back by evolving science. Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, lead author on a 2017 study backed by the AAP, states that “Car seats are awesome at protecting children in a crash, and they are the reason death and injuries to children in motor vehicle crashes have decreased. But that also means we just don’t have enough set of data to determine with certainty at which age it is safety to turn children to be forward facing. If you have a choice, keeping your child rear facing.

Here are the full recommendations from the AAP:

  • Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear facing for 2 years or more.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the height and weight limits for their seats. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.
  • When children exceed these limits, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly. This is often when they have reached at least 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old.
  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
  • All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

Taking heed of the AAP’s new guidelines, Washington has passed one of the strictest car seat laws in the country effective January 1, 2020. Under the new law, kids under the age of 2 must be in rear-facing car seats, unless they exceed maximum height and weight allowed. Kids between 2 and 4 years old must use forward facing seats, unless they exceed maximum height and weight according to manufacturers. Children between 4 and 16 years old should use a booster seat until they exceed 4 feet 9 inches tall. Finally, children under 13 years old must sit in the back seats of the vehicle.

Parents who do not comply with the new law and don’t have their kids properly restrained can be ticketed – although the amount of the ticket isn’t specified. The laws do not apply to buses, taxis, or shuttles.

While certainly inconvenient for parents, the inconvenience is likely worth it according to doctors. Dr. Beth Ebel – professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine – stated that “This change brings us in line with current best thinking about keeping kids safe.” Dr. Ebel testified in favor of the law and stricter car seat laws. Even at low speeds, kids often experience serious injuries after motor vehicle accidents because seat belts are made for adults, not for kids.

The laws might take some getting used to and telling your diminutive pre-teen that they need to sit in a booster might be a tough conversation, but the proof is in the pudding. The laws are based in science and the advancement of laws and technology have saved kid’s lives. If you have any questions about Washington’s car seat laws, or if you have a child who has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, the experienced attorneys at Magnuson Lowell PS are here to help. Call today for a free consultation.

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