State Journal-Register

April 26, 2001

Fitzgerald suggests federal push for child booster seats 


WASHINGTON - Four-year-old Anton Skeen was wearing a seat belt when the SUV driven by his mother hit the shoulder of the road and rolled.

But his 50-pound body flew out of the adult-size belt and was crushed by the vehicle.

The seat belt was all that was required by the state of Washington at the time.

"In retrospect, I see how ludicrous it was to think its ill fit would suffice," said Anton's mother, Autumn Alexander Skeen.

She testified Tuesday at a Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill. to highlight the danger for "the forgotten children," those too big for state-mandated child safety seats and too small to be protected by seat belts designed for adults.

Only three states - Arkansas, California and Washington - have passed laws requiring that children ages 4 to 8 be secured in booster seats that elevate their body so a seat belt fits properly.

Other states are reluctant to adopt such laws because there is no federal standard for booster seats for children weighing up to 80 pounds, experts told Fitzgerald. The current federal standard only covers seats for children up to 50 pounds - just 10 pounds more than the standard child safety seat for infants and children under 4.

Legislation authored by Fitzgerald last year directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to consider changing the standard to 80 pounds - a process that could take two years.

"I don't know that we have the time to wait until all the science is perfect," Fitzgerald said.

He's asked his staff to look into ways to speed the process along.

After the federal standard is changed, Congress should push other states, including Illinois, to require the use of federally certified booster seats by tying federal transportation funding to states' passage of such laws, Fitzgerald said.

Illinois law requires children up to age 3 to be restrained in a child safety seat. Children ages 4 and 5 can be restrained with adult seat belts, which can cause serious injuries because of their improper fit.

In 1998, 495 children aged 5 to 9 were killed and 86,000 were injured in car crashes.