It is Important to Protect the Safety of Children Riding in Automobiles:
Georgia is one of the 47 states that requires children under the age of 8 to be restrained in a weight-appropriate child safety seat while riding in a vehicle. This requirement applies to children riding in cars, vans, SUV's, and pickup trucks. It does not apply to children who are passengers in taxis or public transport vehicles like school busses. In order to satisfy the requirements of O.C.G.A. 40-8-76, a booster seat must:
- Be in the rear seat of the vehicle,
- Be appropriate for the child's weight and height,
- Meet all U.S. federal safety standards, and
- Be installed and used according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Children over 4'9'' are not required to be restrained in a child safety seat, even if they are under age 8. Additionally, children with certain medical conditions are not required to be restrained in a safety seat.
A first conviction for a violation of O.C.G.A. 40-8-76 carries a fine of up to $50, and one point will be assessed on that individual's driving record. Subsequent offenses carry a fine of up to $100; a conviction will result in the assessment of two points on an individual's driving record.
Failure to properly secure a child in a car seat is particularly problematic if the driver happens to be under the influence of alcohol, as it can provide further evidence of child endangerment. Child endangerment occurs when an individual is transporting a child under 14 while driving under the influence. This charge does not merge with DUI, nor do multiple child endangerment charges merge with each other. Typically an individual carrying multiple children in the car receives a separate child endangerment charge for each child he or she is transporting, which can result in substantial jail time and/or loss of driving privileges.
While many of Georgia's traffic laws seem overly harsh, the child safety seat requirement serves a significant role in decreasing injuries and deaths of children involved in car accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control, car seat use reduces the risk of death for infants by 71%. The use of safety seats reduces the risk of death for toddlers (ages 1-4 years) by 54%.
According to the CDC, car seats should be used as follows:
- Up to Age 2: Children should be secured in a rear-facing car seat. Infants and children should be in the back seat, securely fastened in a rear-facing car seat. Once they reach age 2 or outgrow the manufacturer's recommended limits, they should be switched to a front-facing car seat. Always check the labeling and directions for proper use.
- Ages 2 to 5: Front-facing car seat. After reaching age 2 or outgrowing rear-facing seats, children should still be in the back seat, but use a front-facing car seat. Once they reach age 5 or outgrow the manufacturer's recommended limits, they should be switched to a booster seat. Always check the labeling and directions for proper use.
- Age 5 and up until seat belts fit properly: Booster seat. Once children reach the upper height or weight limit of their car seat, they should use a booster seat until seat belts fit properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). Remember to keep children properly buckled in the back seat for the best possible protection.
- Once Seat Belts Fit Properly without a Booster Seat: Seat Belt. Once seat belts fit properly, children should use the back seat with a properly-fitting seat belt. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 57 inches tall.
More tips to ensure your child's safety:
- Never put children in front of an airbag!
- Keep children in the back seat at least until age 12. Airbags deploy with extreme force and can kill or seriously injure children. Absolutely never put a rear-facing child seat in front of an airbag. Serious injury or death can result, as children are lighter than adults and can be lifted off the seat by the deployment of the airbag, causing them to hit their head on the roof of the car at high velocity. For more information about the dangers of airbags for children under age 12, visit this website.
- Read the directions! Studies have shown that 72% (nearly two-thirds!) of car seats and booster seats are dangerously misused. Take the time to protect your child!
- Wear your own seat belt! Protect yourself from injury or death and set a good example for your children. Nearly 40% of children with unbelted drivers were found to not be securely restrained themselves.
Why is this important? In 2011 alone, more than 650 children died in motor vehicle collisions. Over 148,000 suffered injury. Of these children, a third of those who died were not properly secured.
Some jurisdictions in Georgia are taking further steps to educate the public about the importance of proper car seat usage. For example, Walton County requires all individuals convicted of DUI to donate a new car seat to the Sheriff's Office for distribution to individuals who cannot afford a car seat. The City of Atlanta Fire Department has 33 “fitting stations” around the city, with a certified child safety seat technician on staff.
The technician can help you ensure the proper installation of your child's safety seat. Fitting stations operate from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. For more information about Atlanta's fitting stations, visit the Fire Department's webpage. The DeKalb County Board of Health offers Car Seat 101, designed to educate caregivers about proper car seat use.