Chances of booster seat law passing appear slim in Florida

Apr 18, 2011

The following article was published in the Florida Times Union on April 18, 2011:

Chances of Booster Seat Law Passing Appear Slim in Florida

By Larry Hannan

Michael Aubin wants to help parents do the right thing.

And that involves getting more parents to install boosters seats in their vehicles when their children are 4 to 7 years old.

Aubin, president of Wolfson Children’s Hospital, is one of many child-safety advocates in Northeast Florida monitoring proposed legislation in the Legislature that would require putting children in booster seats after they’ve outgrown their car seat.

Florida is one of three states that does not have a law that requires booster seats for kids who have outgrown their car seat. The chances of that changing this year aren’t good.

Legislation remains bottled up in the House and Senate, making it unlikely to get a vote before the Legislature adjourns in May.

Child safety advocates like Aubin acknowledge frustration with the inaction.

“As a state we have the least restrictive car seat laws in the country,” Aubin said. “And that needs to change.”

The other two states without a law are Arizona and South Dakota.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommends it because children 4 to 7 years old are often too small for a regular seat belt. Florida requires only children 3 and younger to be in a car seat.

While parents can install a booster seat now, the force of law makes many take the issue more seriously, said Cynthis Dennis, coordinator of Safe Kids Northeast Florida, a nonprofit whose mission is to prevent childhood injuries and is funded locally by Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

“People call me and ask if there is a law that requires booster seats,” Dennis said. “And they believe if it’s not a law, it’s not really necessary.”

AAA Auto Club South, which supports the bill, is touting the fact that the Official Journal of American Pediatrics said children aged 4-7 are four times more likely to suffer head or brain injuries, and three times more likely to suffer severe abdominal injuries, when wearing only a seat belt instead of a booster seat.

AAA also said booster seats reduce the rate of fatal injury for children by 59 percent compared to the seat belt alone.

Aubin said one of the challenges is that children want to be seen as big kids and fight having to ride in a booster seat.

“When a parent says ‘there’s nothing I can do because it’s the law,'” Aubin said, “it makes it easier to get a child to accept it.”

Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, failed to get a bill passed in 2010 and acknowledges his chances aren’t looking good this year.

He has Republican co-sponsors such as Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville and Ron “Doc” Renuart, R-Ponte Vedre Beach, but it doesn’t appear to be enough.

Steinberg said he believes, even though numerous Republicans have cosponsored the bill, that the House leadership doesn’t want it to pass.

Under House rules the legislation has to pass the Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee before it can be voted on by the entire House.

The subcommittee never discussed the bill, or voted on it, which means its chances of passing are virtually nil because the subcommittee won’t meet again this year.

Katie Betta, spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon, said Cannon had taken no position on the booster seat bill and didn’t try to help or hurt it.

Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, the chairman of the Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee, could not be reached for comment.

But Weinstein said there is no effort to kill the legislation. It’s just a numbers game.

“About 1,300 bills get filed every year and only 300 of them pass,” Weinstein said. “Sometimes good legislation takes a few years to get through.”

The booster seat legislation won’t pass this year, but it will become law in the next few years, Weinstein predicted.

Steinberg is trying to attach the legislation to a larger transportation bill that specifies that the head of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles serves at the pleasure of the governor and the Cabinet. But it’s unclear if that will work.

“If I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m going to refile it again next year.”

Find this article here: