Florida is one of three states that don't require children over age 4 to ride in booster seats, but a state senator filed a bill Monday to increase that age to 7, in hopes of decreasing injuries.
Children more than 4 feet 9 inches would be exempt from the requirement under the bill filed by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, who sponsored similar legislation last year that failed to pass. The proposal doesn't yet have a companion bill in the House.
Car crashes are the top killer of children ages 1 to 12 in the United States, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. But Florida, Arizona and South Dakota remain the three states that don't require children over age 4 to ride in booster seats.
The proposal, which federal officials have been pushing Florida to pass for several years, is aimed at preventing injuries to children too small to be adequately protected by an adult seat belt, although they've outgrown infant car seats.
Kristin Jarvis of North Naples, a mother of 5-year-old twins, bought her children booster seats recently after researching the safety requirements and measurements.
"They were in five-point restraints," Jarvis said as she headed into Walmart off U.S. 41 in North Naples.
They're small for their age, so she believes legislation that isn't just based on age, but on safely fitting into a seat belt and harness, would be safer for children.
"Definitely, if it's based on height and measurement as opposed to age," she said.
Advocates say children with smaller body frames don't fit properly in seat belts, and sometimes end up more injured in crashes due to the seat belts. They also say poor children are particularly at risk because they may not regularly see a pediatrician who could discuss that with their parents.
The Legislature passed a similar bill in 2001, but Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed it, citing concern that it might hurt low-income families. He also noted that it went beyond other states' requirements, something that has since changed. In vetoing the bill, he said lawmakers must place trust in parents.
Opponents have argued they weren't convinced the seats had a marked likelihood of preventing deaths, but backers say statistical evidence proves it.
The decreasing number of tickets for child safety seat violations shows the word has gotten out to most parents. In 2009, Collier County sheriff's deputies handed out 279 tickets carrying $60 fines for child safety seat violations, but that dropped to 168 in 2011. During that three-year period, deputies conducted 209 safety seat inspections for parents.
Current law requires that children age 3 and younger be secured in a federally approved child-restraint seat, and children ages 4 through 5 must be strapped into an approved child restraint seat or safety belt.
Under Altman's bill, a law enforcement officer would first issue a warning and provide a driver with educational literature during a grace period, under certain circumstances.
Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half, according to the Child Safety Council. However, the group says most child restraints are being used incorrectly, putting children at risk. To learn more about booster basics, go to www.nhtsa.gov/Safety/CPS restraints.
To schedule an appointment for a free child seat inspection by the Collier Sheriff's Office, contact Marianna Herrera at 239-252-0367 or email email@example.com. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/TpHb7e
The News Service of Florida and Staff Writer Aisling Swift contributed to this report.