Ohio's new booster-seat law goes into effect Oct. 7. It requires children ages 4 to 8 to ride in a car booster seat unless they are 4 feet, 9 inches or taller.
This is especially important for parents whose kids have moved out of their car seats at age 4 and 40 pounds and have not been using a booster seat since. With the new law, the kids will need to get back into a booster seat, which child-safety experts acknowledge can be a challenge.
But booster seats have been proven to reduce the chances of suffering significant injuries in a crash by 60 percent in kids ages 4 to 7 in 15 states, according to a study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that more than 60 percent of children aren't using booster seats.
According to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 4 to 8 in Ohio.
A booster seat does what its name implies. It literally ''boosts'' the child higher in the seat so the seat-belt system can work the way it's supposed to. The seat-belt system in vehicles is designed to go over bony parts of the body, and the shoulder strap fits snugly across the chest. This is to focus the impact in the event of a crash on the sturdiest parts of the body, instead of the soft-tissue areas of the belly and neck.
Dr. John P. Crow, pediatric trauma director at Akron Children's Hospital, said the difference between a child who arrives at the hospital after a car crash who has been properly buckled compared to a child without restraints or improperly restrained is vast.
''Most children with optimal seat-belt restraints have minor injuries and spend little time in the hospital,'' he said. Those who only have been wearing a lap belt often require major surgery to correct a bowel injury, and a few will have spinal trauma with paraplegia.
''These injuries are completely preventable with a booster seat,'' said Crow, who testified before a state Senate committee in favor of the new law and serves as chairman of the State Committee on Trauma.
Modifications that parents or grandparents sometimes allow for comfort — such as tucking the shoulder strap under the arm — can actually cause further harm in a crash, Crow said.
With the new law, Ohio becomes the 44th state to have a booster-seat law, said Kevin Thomas, vice president of the AAA Akron Auto Club, who first testified in favor of a booster-seat law in 2001.
''We came late into the game as the 44th state,'' he said.
There are two types of booster seats available. Many children already use a combination child seat/booster seat, which uses a harness while the child is a toddler that can be removed to use the seat as a booster seat. That's also often called a high-back booster seat.
A low-back or no-back booster seat is a small chair that looks like a booster seat in a restaurant. The child would use the car's back seat and headrest with that type.
The type of seat used is really a matter of preference, child-safety experts said, though a high-back booster is better in a back seat that doesn't have a headrest.
Also, if the shoulder strap falls on the child's neck instead of shoulders, caregivers should use either the belt positioning guides on a high-back seat or move the shoulder strap to the right height.
Booster seats typically can cost less than $20 to more than $50, with the low-back or no-back versions being more affordable.
The low-back or no-back version also can be easier to get a child back into a booster seat if the child hasn't been using one. Other children can't see the booster from outside the car, Thomas said.
A booster also can make the child look bigger from outside and since it boosts a child up, gives the child a better view, said Lisa Pardi, injury-prevention specialist for Akron Children's Hospital and coordinator of the Safe Kids Coalition of Summit County.
Use of a booster seat is much simpler than installing or using an infant or toddler child seat, which is actually buckled into the car. But even though it's easier with the use of the actual seat belt to go over the child and the booster seat, there are still important things to keep in mind — such as where the seat belt is actually touching the child.
A video appears online with this story at http://www.ohio.com/business/lin-fisher showing Pardi of Children's Hospital reviewing the important parts about booster-seat safety.
A few other important things to keep in mind regarding booster seats:
• The booster-seat law is in effect for all drivers, so if you're car pooling and taking a bunch of kids or transporting your grandchildren, you'll need to make sure you transfer their booster seats to your car or use some of your own.
• The Safe Kids Coalition offers a discount program to purchase car seats. You can call them at the hospital at 330-543-8942.
• Safe Kids and AAA Akron Auto Club at its downtown location offer car-seat inspections by appointment, if you're unsure whether your child's car seat (usually infant and toddler seats) buckle properly. You can call the AAA at 330-762-0631.
• If you have a child who is older than 8, or even a small-statured adult and the belt doesn't fall on the right parts of the body, consider continuing to use a booster seat or a phone book to get the person to the right height. Look at the weight specifications for the booster seat, if you do return an older child to a booster.
• While the law goes into effect Oct. 7, during the first six months, officers will issue warning citations. Beginning April 7, 2010, the violator can receive a ticket. The fine may not exceed $75 and it is a secondary enforcement violation, which means a motorist can only be ticketed after being pulled over for another moving violation.
• The law also requires that children ages 8 to 15 wear a seat belt.
• Existing law already requires children under age 4 and under 40 pounds ride in an approved child safety seat.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at
330-996-3724 or blinfisher@