Thursday, April 19th, 2007
By Shelley Grieshop
Now older children must buckle up
  A new Ohio law requires all children ages 4 to 15 to buckle up while traveling in a vehicle.
The law, part of House Bill 343 that took effect April 6, mandates that any child in that age category must be properly restrained no matter where they are sitting in a vehicle.
The law does not apply to children riding in a school bus, taxicab or public safety transportation, such as an ambulance or law enforcement vehicle.
"It's always traumatic when a child is injured or dies in an (automobile) accident, especially when it could have been avoided," said Lt. Dan Lay, commander of the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
From 2004 to 2006, 107 children ages 4 to 15 died in traffic fatalities across the state, according to a public safety study. Another 1,297 were seriously injured and more than 9,700 sustained minor injuries.
Thirty-nine percent of those killed during the three-year period studied were seated in the backseat and were not wearing a seat belt. One-third (36 percent) of the children who died were 12 to 15 years old.
Anyone found in violation of the new child seat belt law is guilty of a minor misdemeanor and faces a fine of $25 to $150. A previous conviction for a seat belt violation could raise the seriousness of the charge to a fourth-degree misdemeanor with the possibility of 30 days in jail and a maximum $250 fine.
Similar to other Ohio seat belt laws, the new child restraint law is a secondary violation, meaning law enforcement officers cannot stop a vehicle solely because someone is not buckled up. However, an officer initiating a traffic stop for another suspected violation can issue a seat belt violation if they spot a child unrestrained.
Current Ohio law requires all front seat passengers to wear seat belts and children under the age of 4 and less than 40 pounds to be secured in a child safety seat.
Senate Bill 27, which was introduced Feb. 20 and remains pending in the Ohio General Assembly, seeks to go a step further by requiring children ages 4 to 8 and less than 4-foot, 9-inches tall, to be secured in a booster seat. The legislation is supported by the National Highway Safety Administration and the American Academy of Pediatricians.
Officials say many children who are just above the "4-year, 40-pound" limit are too small for adult seat belts that can cut into their neck and cause injury or even death in an accident.
Lay said seat belt compliance for all ages locally is about 80 percent. He's pleased with that number but knows there's room for improvement. Like many other law enforcement officers, he would like to see the law changed to require vehicle occupants of all ages - no matter which seat they are occupying - to wear seat belts while in moving vehicles.
"The public hears us constantly talking about seat belt safety and I think they sometimes believe it's just about issuing fines. That's not what this is about, it's about saving lives," Lay said.
Lay said creating legislation that would require everyone to wear a seat belt also would lessen the confusion about the regulations.
Mandating the usage of seat belts continues to be a controversial issue around the state and nationwide, even though studies show their benefits outweigh the negatives, Lay said.
"Seat belts may not save lives in every crash, but we know they do in most, "he added.
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