Q: I was watching news on television and they reported that children have to ride in a booster seat until they reach 4-feet, 9-inches tall. I thought children didn’t need a booster seat if they were 6 years old or weighed 60 pounds. Is this a new law? Can you give me more information on this subject?

A: There was a change to the existing law regarding child safety restraints in vehicles. The change took effect on Jan. 1, 2012. A child safety restraint is a device, such as a seatbelt or small car seat with a seatbelt, used to control and protect a child in a motor vehicle.

There are four types of child safety restraint systems. They are infant seats, convertible seats, combination seats, and booster seats. The difference in the type of seat is directly related to the size of the child. The seats are designed to fit children at different stages in their lives. Some seats are designed for infants until they reach a certain height or weight, while others are designed specifically for toddlers. Your child’s size will determine which seat is right for him/her.

By definition, a booster seat is one that adjusts a child’s height in order to allow a seatbelt to properly fit. A proper fit is when the lap belt lies snuggly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Let’s take a look at the changes to the law in greater detail.

Section 27360 of the California Vehicle Code defines the requirements necessary for child passengers in motor vehicles. The old law stated in essence that a child passenger needed to be in an approved child restraint system in the rear seat of a motor vehicle until the child was 6 years old or weighed 60 pounds.

The new law focuses more on the child’s height rather than weight. One of the reasons for the change was based on information from several studies of motor vehicle accidents involving child passengers. The studies revealed startling information on injuries that children sustained while wearing seatbelts without the use of a booster seat. The study also showed that child passengers involved in motor vehicle accidents who were 6 years old or weighed 60 pounds, and not using an approved booster seat, were slipping through seatbelts and ending up in hospital emergency rooms. Seatbelts in motor vehicles are designed to fit adults. A booster seat can raise a child to the height of an adult and provide a better fit for the seatbelt. The new changes to the law aim to better protect child passengers in motor vehicles.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, section 27360 of the California Vehicle Code now states in essence a driver shall not transport a child under 8 years of age in a motor vehicle without properly securing that child in an approved child restraint system in the rear seat. An approved child restraint system is basically a child seat that meets federal motor vehicle safety standards. There are a few exceptions to this section listed in 27363 of the California Vehicle Code. The exceptions are for children riding in the front seat. Children under the age of 8 may ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle when they are properly secured in an approved child safety restraint system under the following circumstances:

• The motor vehicle’s rear seats are side facing or rear facing.

• The child restraint system cannot be properly installed in the rear seat.

• The motor vehicle does not have a rear seat. In this case the child restraint system should be used in the front seat (i.e. a regular cab pick-up truck). Please note that a rear facing child restraint system should never be used in the front seat of a motor vehicle equipped with active frontal passenger air bags.

• All rear seats are being occupied by children 7 years of age or younger.

• Medical reasons necessitate the child not ride in the rear seat. The court may require satisfactory proof of the child’s medical condition.

• A child passenger who is 4-feet, 9-inches tall and under the age of 8 does not need to be in an approved child restraint system.

Remember, all passengers in a motor vehicle are required to utilize seatbelts regardless of age or height. If you would like more information on child restraint systems, please visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website at www.nhtsa.gov/ChildSafety. The website offers recommendations for child seats, current manufacture recalls, seat inspection stations, as well as other valuable information.

This column was prepared by Neighborhood Resource Officer Mike Boyd (Beat 8: Pico Neighborhood). He can be reached at (424) 200-0688 or Michael.boyd@smgov.net.