New Oklahoma Car Seat Law Seeks to Reduce Child Deaths, Injuries in Car Crashes

In less than seven weeks, a new child car seat law goes into effect in Oklahoma. I encourage parents and other drivers to begin following the new requirements now, which were adopted to save the lives of infants and children who are involved in a car crash on Oklahoma roads.

Car Accidents and the Law

One of the big differences in the new law, which goes into effect Nov. 1, is that babies under age 2 will be required to be in a rear-facing car seat. There was no requirement for rear-facing car seats in the previous law.

Another big difference is that under the old law, children 6 and above were allowed to use seat belts. Under the new law, the age for seat belt use is increased to 8 and above, except for 6- and 7-year-olds who are 4-foot 9-inches or taller.

car seat car crash

You can read the law for yourself here: Title 47: Motor Vehicles, Section 11-1112. The law requires that children:

  • under 2 years old must be in a rear-facing car seat,
  • 2-3 years old must be in a car seat, but it does not have to be rear-facing,
  • 4-7 years old and less than 4’9” must be in a car seat or booster seat,
  • 8 years old and older or taller than 4’9” must use a seat belt.

The driver is responsible to make sure child passengers are safely secured. Violation can result in a fine of $50 plus court costs, and the violation also can be admitted as evidence in a civil lawsuit.

The new law was authored by state Rep. Scott Inman, Del City, and was signed by Gov. Fallin on June 5. NewsChannel 4 quoted Inman as saying: … “While we are required to buckle up, we aren’t required to buckle them up in a way that would save their lives. … “It’s just common sense, pro-life legislation to try to save the lives of children.”

Doing It Properly

Drivers should make sure to notice that the law also requires “properly using a child passenger safety restraint system” that is “properly secured.” In other words, the car seat or booster seat must be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s design and instructions. A 2003 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 73% of child safety restraints were being misused.

One of the most common errors is to fail to properly secure the car seat or booster seat to the vehicle. It provides little protection to strap a child into a car seat but fail to secure the seat to the car. Modern car seats are designed to be attached securely to the frame of the vehicle using straps and latches that clip onto upper and lower metal “anchors.” Older devices may be designed to be secured using the car’s seat belt.

One big caution is that adult seat belts don’t work on children below a certain height. A seat belt needs to run diagonally across the center of a person’s chest to hold that person in a crash. If a child is too small, the seat belt will run across the child’s neck or the top of the chest, which could choke the child. It is uncomfortable for small children to wear seat belts that don’t fit them, so children sometimes put the chest restraint behind their backs, which eliminates most of the protection a seat belt is designed to provide.

That’s why a booster seat is required for child under 57 inches tall. The booster elevates a child to a position where the chest restraint fits and works properly.

NHTSA Recommendations are Tougher

Although the new requirements are tougher than what Oklahomans are used to, they still are not as strict as the guidelines recommended by the NHTSA, which suggest:

  • Rear-facing car seats for children under 3 (Oklahoma’s new law puts the cut-off at 2),
  • Car seats for children under 7 (Oklahoma’s new law allows booster seats for children ages 5-7),
  • Booster seats through age 12 (Oklahoma’s new law says through age 7), unless and until the child is tall enough to safely use seat belts.

Statistics: Child Fatalities, Injuries

According to recently released data from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, more than 7,500 pre-teen children were involved in car crashes in Oklahoma in 2014. More than 1,800 of those children were injured.

Seventeen children ages 12 and under were killed in car crashes in Oklahoma in 2014. Only six of those 17 children were in child restraints; four more were wearing seat belts; and seven child fatalities resulted from not using any safety restraint.

The NHTSA says child car seats and booster seats reduce the likelihood of death in a car crash by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers.

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