Alabama law requires child safety seats for infants. But for older children, so-called booster seats are merely recommended, not mandatory. A national children's safety advocate is pushing for a change and Monday, she brought her campaign to Montgomery. Experts say that without booster seats, children between 40 and 80 pounds can't use a regular seatbelt safely.
Autumn Skeen, from Washington state, speaks about the problems with seatbelts from a first-hand perspective. Her son was killed in a crash seven years ago. "Anton was buckled with a lap-shoulder belt according to Washington state law," she recalls. "When the state patrol found us, I was more dead than alive. But next to me, the seatbelt was still clicked and there was no Anton. He had been thrown from the car."
"Alabama has long had one of the highest child death rates in the nation," explains Lisa Parrish of VOICES for Alabama's Children. "And how do children die? They die in car accidents most of the time. And that's an easy thing to change."
Making that change was the focus of the luncheon Monday where Skeen was asked to speak. VOICES for Alabama's Children wanted to educate lawmakers, insurance executives, and others about booster seats and they ways they can help.
Skeen can't say whether a booster seat would have saved her son's life, but she's confident enough that she believes they can save the lives of hundreds of others. More than 500 children die in accidents each year in the US. Skeen has already been successful pushing through booster seat legislation in her home state of Washington.
Booster seats are sold in all kinds of retail stores. You'll often find them combined with child safety seats which have backs. But if your child is already over 40 pounds, it's really just the seat he or she needs. "It changes the geometry of the seatbelt fit so the belt works for them like it does for me and for you," says Skeen. However, if you don't have shoulder belts (only lap belts) in your car, then you do not need a booster seat.