Gathering Place
Ann Medeiros

Boost your keiki’s odds
of surviving a wreck

I am a mom. I'm not affiliated with any group or organization that lobbies for legislation. I am just a taxpaying mom. I'm writing because kids are being needlessly injured and they need our help.

I'm sure we all recall the 2004 news reports of fiery high-speed crashes on the H-1, Oahu traffic fatalities on the increase, and tragic deaths on many major roadways such as the Pali, Farrington and Kalanianaole highways. The senseless loss of life for any family is incredibly painful, but the loss of a child is particularly cruel.

According to the state Department of Transportation, each year more than 700 children between the ages of 4 and 8 are involved in major automobile accidents on Hawaii's roadways. Perhaps as many as 16 percent of these children were not restrained at all. An unrestrained child was three to four times as likely to be injured as a child properly restrained with the aid of an automobile booster seat.

An automobile booster seat ensures that children are properly buckled up to prevent injury and death in a motor vehicle crash. Booster seats are recommended for children 4 to 8 years old, whose size and physical development make seat belts less effective and, in some cases, unsafe. Booster seats are readily available at local retail establishments for as little as $13.

The Booster Seat Bill was introduced in 2001. It passed all the necessary committees in the Legislature, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Cayetano. In the years that followed, the bill was re-introduced only to die in the House Judiciary committee. This year the Booster Seat Bill passed in the Senate Transportation and Judiciary committees and the House Transportation committee. Unfortunately the chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Cynthia Luke chose not to hold public hearings for this bill. This important piece of legislation, which could have spared more than 700 children from needlessly suffering as a result of automobile accidents, died April 8.

Highway deaths are the No. 1 killer of children in our nation. Between 1990 and 1999 more than 16,500 children under the age of 10 died in motor vehicle crashes. In other words, 33 children under the age of 10 die every week in a motor vehicle crash.

While the use of seat belts in the rear seat of a vehicle is current law in Hawaii, the rear seats and seatbelts are not designed for children. Because of this, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration strongly recommends the use of booster seats for children between ages 4 and 8 or who weigh at least 40 pounds and are under 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Under current Hawaii Law, children under age 4 are required to be secured in child safety seats. Unfortunately, children ages 4 through 8 are not. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 85,000 keiki between the ages of 4 and 8 residing in Hawaii. These children are too small for an adult seatbelt. They need to be properly secured in a booster seat to be fully protected by seatbelts. In the case of a child riding in a car using only the standard seatbelt, the lap belt rides up into his or her abdomen and the shoulder belt cuts across the neck.

Some parents are aware that a booster seat is the recommended transition from child safety seats to seatbelts. Such parents will use a booster seat to ensure proper seatbelt fit and safety of their children. However, other parents are guided by the law as a measure of what is safe for their children, and will not use a booster seat because it is not a legal requirement.

Across the United States many local jurisdictions already require booster seats. Seven states and the District of Columbia require restraints for children under 8 years old and 80 pounds. Twenty-four other states have child restraint laws that set higher age minimums than Hawaii.

I urge you to be courageous. Ask your legislators to raise the bar in Hawaii for the safety of all children riding in motor vehicles. Hawaii needs to join the 25 other states taking the strongest stance for child safety. We need to protect the 85,000 keiki in our state who are at risk of becoming a statistic.

Ann Medeiros lives in Kailua.

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