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Montana's new law means safer kids

Montana now has a new law about kids and child safety restraints. The new law comes closer to what we know to be the safest practices for the safety of our children while they are passengers in cars.

For years Montana law about children and child safety restraints lagged behind what those involved in child passenger safety have known to be safe practices. Despite that, many citizens have learned what is best and put it into practice even though the law didn't require it.

Unfortunately, many Montanans believed that since there wasn't a law requiring children over the age of 2 to be in a child safety restraint, their children were safe in a seat belt. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death for Montana children age 1 to 14, and that is why a better law was needed.

The new law says: "If a child under 6 years of age and weighing less than 60 pounds is a passenger in a motor vehicle, that motor vehicle must be equipped with one child safety restraint for each child in the vehicle and each child must be properly restrained."

A child safety restraint is not just a safety belt. It means some type of car seat or booster seat. Children 40 to 60 pounds will need to be in booster seats of a type that is appropriate to the vehicle in which they are riding.

Moving to a safety belt too early greatly increases risk of injury. Children age 2 to 5 who are prematurely graduated to safety belts are four times more likely to sustain a serious head injury than those restrained in child safety seats or booster seats.

The booster seat step is overlooked by the majority of people. Studies show that 63 percent of children who should be in belt-positioning booster seats, typically children age 4 to 8, are inappropriately restrained.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that less than 10 percent of children who should be restrained in booster seats ride in one.

The four Steps for Kids are:

Rear-facing infant seats in the back seat from birth to at least 1 year old and 20 pounds.

Forward-facing toddler seats in the back seat from age 1 to about age 4 and 20 to 40 pounds.

Booster seats in the back seat from about age 4 and 40 pounds to at least age 8, unless 4 foot 9. (One major exception for booster seats are cars with lap belts only. Booster seats must not be used with a lap belt only. They require the shoulder and lap belt combination.)

Safety belts at age 8 or older or taller than 4 foot 9. All children 12 and under should ride in the back seat.

Montana's old law said a vehicle was not required to have more that three child safety restraints, but that has been changed, too. A child safety restraint is required for every child under 6 years of age and 60 pounds.

The law is a great improvement over the old law, which had not been updated for many years. The recommendation for keeping children safe has long been to keep children under 4 foot 9

and 80 pounds in booster seats. Most five-point harness seats are safe to 35 or 40 pounds. After that, booster seats used with shoulder and lap belts are safest.

To help in identifying what each individual child's safety restraint need is, child-care providers in the Havre area were provided with growth charts that explain the size/age

recommendations for car seats and booster seats.

The Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition provides child safety seat inspections periodically throughout the year or by appointment. They also have a program to help

families in need of car seats that cannot afford to purchase car seats. A limited number of booster seats are available to parents for their children free of charge. They are not compatible with all vehicles, however, so installation by appointment is required, just as it is for all child safety restraints.

For help in obtaining a car seat or booster seat, please contact Jamie at the Hill County Health Department at 265-5481, or LuAnn at HELP at 265-6206. To have your child safety seat inspected or obtain a booster seat, contact Dave or Jack at the Havre Fire Department at 265-6511, Wanda at Northern Montana Hospital at 262-1341, Sam Clawson at Tilleman Motors at 265-7865, or Andi or Deanna at Head Start at 265-6743 or 265-6794.

Senate Bill 217 amended sections 61-9-420 and 61-13-103, MCA. The full bill can be viewed at

For more information about the new law, contact LuAnn McLain of the Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition at the HELP Committee at 265-6206.

To help educate parents, grandparents, and child-care providers, the Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition, funded with a Safe Kids Buckle Up grant, will conduct a free child safety seat checkup at Tilleman Motor Co. on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Child safety seats will be inspected and checked against recall lists. Then parents will be shown how to install them properly and tightly.

Those interested in attending the free clinic are encouraged to call ahead to schedule an appointment to help shorten any waiting time. Call LuAnn at 265-6206, ext. 305, to schedule an appointment. Call anytime and leave a message with name and phone number.Child safety seat clinic is Saturday


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