Spokane police officer Teresa Fuller kept her daughter in a booster seat until age 11, when she reached 4 feet, 9 inches tall.
In fact, when her daughter’s friends were along for the ride, “car rules” applied to them as well.
“I’m like, ‘Well, grab your booster,’ and they’d go, ‘Oh, I’m not in a booster anymore,’ ” Fuller said. “ ‘I’ve got an extra for you, because you’ll get a booster in my car.’ She would get so annoyed with me, but I knew they weren’t ready to be out of a booster yet because they weren’t the right size.”
Fuller’s car rules will apply to all of Washington state as of Wednesday, when the state’s Child Restraint Law goes into effect.
The new rule specifies that children must be in a rear-facing car seat until age 2, a five-point harness until age 4 and a booster seat until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall or 13 years old, whichever comes first.
Cesi Velez, project manager for Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s child passenger safety program, said Washington had been a “proper use” state before the law’s passage but noted the law still makes important changes to how kids are allowed to travel in cars.
“Families were required just to follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions, that still remains the same,” Velez said.
“However, on those seats, there’s still some seats being made that a child can forward-face as young as 1 year old. And so our law will take precedence over that car seat manufacturer’s instructions.”
“We have been teaching extended rear-facing for over a decade now, but it was only taught as best practice,” Velez said. “And so although we encouraged it, the law wasn’t there to support it.”
According to Fuller, the law clarifies what the law already inherently required. Under existing law, she said, children should remain in a booster until they are at least age 8 and the seat belt fits them properly. But proper fit, she said, could only come by meeting the 4-foot-9-inch height requirement that’s now law.
For those not following the new requirements, the driver will receive a $139 ticket. But the law also offers drivers an out.
“It does give that person the opportunity to correct the error, to acquire a car seat, to say, ‘I’ve got the booster seat now that my child needs,’ ” Velez said. “And they can go to the issuing court within seven days and show proof, and then they can get that charge dismissed.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a leading cause of death for children is vehicle accidents, and many are preventable. In 2017, 675 children younger than 12 died in car accidents, and 35% of these children were not buckled in. Incorrect restraint-system use is common, with 59% of car seats and 20% of booster seats used incorrectly.
Kids under the age of 13 shouldn’t bother calling shotgun, since it’s against the rule for them to sit there.
“That’s always been the law, that’s nothing new,” Velez said. “Although it’s getting a lot of attention, isn’t it?”
But there are exceptions, such as when a car does not have a backseat or when family size requires someone under 13 to ride shotgun.
When Fuller originally took the 40-hour car seat safety course, she realized that her son’s seat had three things wrong that could have killed him had they been in a crash.
“This is why I’m so passionate about it, because I know most parents that are educated and love their kids and want to do the right things for the right reasons get it wrong,” Fuller said.