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Keeping youngsters safe

Published (2/13/2009)
By Mike Cook
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Investing less than the cost of a tank of gas could better ensure a child has every opportunity afforded them.

For Brynn Duncan the legislation would come too late.

Restrained with only a seat belt, as required by state law, the 7-year-old was riding in her grandmotherís car when it was involved in a crash on Aug. 18, 2008. The impact snapped Brynnís body in half, tearing her spinal cord at the waist, severing an intestine, bruising her heart and damaging a kidney. Doctors said she was fortunate to survive, but the Moorhead girl is paralyzed.

Current law says a child passenger restraint system is required for children under age 4, at which point they can be buckled in with a regular seatbelt. Minnesota is one of six states that does not have a supplemental child restraint law.

However, a bill sponsored by Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan) would require that youth be in a restraint system until their eighth birthday or they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Approved Feb. 11 by the House Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division, HF267 was sent to the House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee. A companion bill, SF99, awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

Gail Weinholzer, director of public affairs for AAA Minnesota/Iowa, said an improperly fitted adult safety belt could cause the lap belt to ride up over the stomach and the shoulder belt to cut across the neck. If the shoulder strap is uncomfortable, children often place it behind their backs, further defeating the safety benefits of the system.

Supporters said a backless booster seat, which raises a child so the belt properly goes across the shoulders and hips, costs less than $20.

It would be a petty misdemeanor to violate the law, with the driver fined up to $50. However, the fine would be waived if the driver proves within 14 days that a system has been purchased for use by the operator.

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