Oregon's child safety seat law gives parents some discretion

The wording in the child safety seat law is difficult to understand. I've got an 8-year-old daughter who is small for her age, so when the law says "Children over 40 pounds remain riding in a booster seat until age 8, OR they are 4 feet 9 inches in height" doesn't clear things up as to whether she should stay in her seat until she's the proper 4-9 height for the seat belt to work properly. Just because you're 8 doesn't mean you're big enough for the belt to safely restrain you in an accident. You have to be the right size, correct? So, can you interpret this for me?

— Scott S., Medford

Scott, Oregon had to draw a line somewhere for safety seat use, kind of like they had to make .08 the level to be presumed blood-alcohol level for driving while impaired. That line used to be 6 years of age AND 60 pounds before they were legally allowed out of a child or booster seat, meaning they had to meet both criteria before legally being allowed into the vehicle's restraint system. As of July 1, the upper limit was raised, but now they define it not by age and weight, but by age and height. You are correct in that the AND was changed to an OR, meaning once they meet either standard, not both, then they are legally allowed to go into the vehicle's lap and shoulder belts.

These are Oregon's guidelines, however. You are again correct that just because you're 8 doesn't mean you're big enough for the car's safety restraints. That's where one extra provision of Oregon's law can kick in. The law, besides defining age and height limits, also states that a child (and this goes for an adult too) must be "properly" secured with whatever system they are using. Therefore, if your daughter might be able to graduate from the booster seat by reason of age, but is maybe of small stature, and putting her in the car's seat belt means the shoulder belt rides up on her neck, then that is improperly secured and she should stay in the booster seat until she's large enough for the proper use of the car's safety restraint system.

The test for which system to use really is putting the child in the car's lap and shoulder belt and seeing if the lap belt rides across the hip bones, not up on the stomach and that the shoulder harness goes across the center of the collarbone, not up on the neck. If a quick visual assessment doesn't show a proper fit, then stay with the booster seat a little longer.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.

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