A new state law expected to go into effect soon involving child passenger safety restraints in motor vehicles has been clarified for Texas motorists, according to Beth Warren of the Texas Department of Public Safety Administrative Training Unit’s safety programs in Austin.

The new state law will require that all children younger than 8 years old, unless taller than 4 feet 9 inches, to be in child passenger safety seat system. “Child passenger safety seat system” includes traditional car seats with harnesses as well as booster seats — both high-back and backless versions.

The law also requires all safety seats and booster seats to be installed according to the instructions of the manufacturer of the safety seat system.

Because of the changes of the wording in the law (SB61), Warren said the following legal interpretation should be applied:

• Once children reach 8 years old, they are not legally required to be in a child safety seat system.

• If children are younger than 8 years old, but they are already 4 feet 9 inches tall, they are not legally required to be in a child safety seat system.

• If a child is 8 years old or older, and not yet 4 feet 9 inches tall, they are not legally required to be in a child safety seat system.

The law also requires that safety and booster seats be installed and used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, including age, height and weight requirements and the placement in the vehicle. Some manufacturers prohibit using their products on the front seats of vehicles.

DPS officials said some confusion has developed about the requirements of the law.

The other part of the law that may cause some confusion are the dates of when the law takes effect and when the enforcement phase begins.

The law will take effect immediately when the governor signs it into law or allows it to pass unsigned. At that time, law enforcement officers may only enforce the new changes in the law with written or verbal warnings until June 1, 2010.

However, beginning on June 1, 2010, officers may then arrest or issue a citation/notice to appear to a person committing an offense.

A fine of not more than $25 can be assessed for a first offense and no more than $250 for the second or subsequent offenses.

This extra time between the effective date and the written offense date is to allow parents and caregivers time to become educated about, and obtain, the required safety seats or booster seats.

Vehicle manufacturers design their products for adults — not children — and they support keeping kids in the appropriate safety or booster seat until the child can properly wear the adult safety belt… typically when they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall.

To know when children can wear an adult seat belt properly without a booster seat after they reach age 8, use this test offered by the DPS:

Have the child sit on the vehicle seat, sitting all the way back, with his or her back straight against the back of the seat, and buckle the lap/shoulder belt over them.

• Do their legs bend naturally at the knees over the edge of the seat?

• Does the lap portion of the belt fit low over the hips and top of their thighs?

• Does the shoulder portion of the belt fit across the center of their chest?

If the answer to any of these three questions is no, the child may be better protected in a booster seat.

A child in a poorly-fitting adult seat belt usually slumps down, allowing the seat belt to ride up into their abdomen or neck, which can cause severe injuries to the child’s neck and internal organs during a car crash.

Although there is no law that prevents youngsters from sitting in the front seat of a vehicle, the safest place for a child in a car is in a rear seat, properly buckled into a child safety seat or a booster seat.

Air bags don’t replace child safety seats and may increase the risk of serious injury to children. Children younger than 13 should never ride in the front seats of vehicles with active passenger air bags. If you do have to transport a child in the front seat in an emergency — make sure the front seat is moved all the way back on the track, placing as much room as possible between the deployment zone of the air bag and the vehicle seat… but never place a rear-facing safety seat on a front seat.

Adults are urged to read and follow the instructions in both the safety/booster seat owner’s manual and the vehicle owner’s manual. Not all safety or booster seats fit the same in all vehicles — so a motorist may have to try several before finding a good fit for both the child and vehicle.