THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 18, 2010 --
Federal transportation safety officials are hoping that Florida may pass a car booster seat requirement for young children, saying that seat belts aren’t good enough for children of a certain size.
And there is new hope for backers of the booster seat requirement now, with the departure of a key opponent who was blamed by some for bottling up the legislation in previous years.
Current state law requires car seats for children under 4, and seat belts for everyone else. But the National Transportation Safety Board has for several years pushed for states to require that children under 7 also be required to sit in a booster seat that makes the seat belt actually work better for children that size, unless the child is 4’9” or taller.
Florida is one of three states that don’t have such a requirement.
“A lap belt or a lap and shoulder belt on a child of that age is anything but safe,” said Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, who is sponsoring legislation (HB 11) that would require child booster seats for children who meet certain size requirements. “As an adult you have to properly secure yourself . Yet for some reason a child who is five, six years old doesn’t have to be properly secured? It just doesn’t make sense.”
The NTSB released its latest “Most Wanted” list this week outlining changes it would like to see in the states. “We’re coming after Florida” on the booster seat issue, one NTSB official said recently.
Advocates say children with smaller body frames don’t fit properly in seat belts, and sometimes are injured even worse because of them. Backers also say poor children are particularly at risk – because they may not regularly see a pediatrician who would tell their parents that.
“And children don’t really have a voice on this issue, and we know that proper use of restraints will prevent injuries and child deaths,” said Stephanie Davis, a safety advocate at the NTSB.
Steinberg said the seats can be bought for under $20.
Florida has passed the requirement before, but Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the legislation in 2001. He said at the time he was concerned that the bill might hurt low-income families, and that it went beyond the requirements of other states. That could be a problem, some opponents said then, because Florida has so many tourists, and that those who drive to the state might not know about the requirement.
Bush also cited a simple Libertarian argument, saying in his veto message that “we
must place some trust in parents and recognize that almost every parent in our state, more so than
government, wants their child to lead healthy, safe lives.”
That Libertarian argument is one of the reasons the bill has failed to pass, backers say. In particular, they say, former Rep. Dave Murzin, had a key committee chairmanship that allowed him to keep the bill from passing. Murzin, a Pensacola Republican, left the Legislature earlier this month.
Murzin said that when he looked at it, he simply could find no proof that the seats significantly reduced deaths or injuries.
“It was a feel-good piece of legislation, and, I’m sure, well-intentioned,” Murzin said Thursday. “But there wasn’t any statistically significant evidence to differentiate where we are now versus the change.
“We did our research, it’s not just an indiscriminate thing,” Murzin continued. “Some people in government want to be your mama and your daddy. That’s OK, but at what point are you taking away personal responsibility? Government’s never going to be able to solve everything for everybody.”
As for the argument that tourists might be caught off guard – NTSB’s Davis points out that most other states have the law now anyway, and some have exempted out-of-state drivers from their requirements, which would be a possible way around that fear.
While it’s not clear whether there is a consensus in the tourism industry on whether the seats should be required in Florida, one of the biggest industry players, Disney, thinks that parents at least ought to know about the need for them. Disney partnered with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to do a public service announcement for booster seats featuring Cinderella. The connection: the right fit is important, whether it’s a glass slipper or a seat belt.
Steinberg’s bill hasn’t yet been filed in the Senate.
There’s no monetary consequence to passing the bill. A couple of years ago the feds were offering money to states to do it, and many did at the time. That money is no longer available.