A law set to go into effect Nov. 1 in Oklahoma will require children up to age 8 to ride in a car seat or child booster seat and kids younger than 2 to ride in a rear-facing car seat.
The Oklahoma Child Passenger Safety Law, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on June 5, expands on the state’s current law, which requires children up to age 6 to be constrained in a car or booster seat. The current law also does not require children to ride facing the rear.
Under the new law, children must be in a rear-facing car seat until they are 2 years old or reach the weight and height limit of the car seat. Children between 2 and 4 must ride in a car seat with a harness. Children between 4 and 8 must be in a car seat or booster unless they are taller than 4-foot-9. Kids 8 and older or taller than 4-foot-9 must wear a properly secured seat belt.
“This law is very important because it’s protecting our older children,” said Beth Washington, coordinator of Safe Kids Tulsa Area. “Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children in Oklahoma. The seat belts in your car are made for adults. They’re not made for children.”
According to a Safe Kids Tulsa Area report released last year, Oklahoma had the eighth-highest crash-fatality rate of children between ages 4 and 8 in the country in 2012, with 15 deaths per 100,000. In 2013, 22 children were killed in traffic crashes in Oklahoma, and 607 were seriously injured, the report states.
Jenny Rollins with Safe Kids Tulsa Area said the requirement for children 2 and younger to ride rear-faced was a direct result of an updated recommendation report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report found that a rear-facing car seat does a better job of protecting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers during a crash, Rollins said.
The report further indicates that children younger than 2 are 75 percent less likely to die in a crash if they are riding rear-faced.
“Concerns the child will be uncomfortable if their legs are touching the back of the vehicle seat is not supported by any evidence,” Rollins said.
Although the law says violators will be fined $50, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Dwight Durant said court costs and other fees can raise that total to upward of $230.
Durant said child safety is a passionate topic for law enforcement officers, and the new regulations will be strictly enforced.
“Police troopers across the state, we all have our biases about enforcing certain laws,” Durant said. “Some of us will write more speeding tickets and others will write warnings for following too close. But this law is one that is universal across the state. I know of no one in 18 years that has ever written a warning for an unrestrained child in a car.”