NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 7, 2008

About 30 years ago, the child safety seat was novelty device; generations of American children had been transported sitting in a parent's lap.  But now, the car seat is an object of legislative fetish; every state in the union has laws mandating the use of car seats for infants and toddlers and 38 states have laws mandating the use of booster seats, says the Weekly Standard.

In fact:

  • Once eight-year-olds graduates from their booster seat in Massachusetts, they must remain in the backseat, using normal seatbelts, until age 12.
  • In Maine, children over 40 pounds must be in a booster seat until they reach eight or 80 pounds -- whichever comes last.
  • The penalty for violating these laws varies, ranging from $10 to $500 per infraction; D.C. also tacks two points to your license for good measure.
  • In Nevada, you can be sentenced up to 50 hours of community service.

Additionally, enforcement can be quite zealous, says the Standard:

  • A few years ago, Washington, D.C., set up roadblocks to perform random checks on vehicles carrying car-seat-age children; officers handed out mock summonses, instructing parents to attend car-seat safety classes.
  • In 2000, an Arkansas judge forced a mother who had secured her three-year-old with a normal seatbelt to pay $125 and write an obituary for her daughter.

Oddly, parents are compelled to buy car seats but are discouraged from installing them on their own.  Instead they are urged to have the devices professionally installed at a car-seat inspection center -- usually a local firehouse or police station. 

Although the installation is free, it can aggravate other problems.  Since car seats now have expiration dates, you can rarely reuse them.  And if an inspector determines that your seat is past its "use by" date, they will likely refuse to install it, or even confiscate it, says the Standard!

Source: Jonathan V. Last, "Notes from the Nanny State: On the tyranny of the baby seat," Weekly Standard, Vol. 14, No. 4, October 6, 2008.

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