Editor’s Note: We are re-running this article, as the new laws go in effect today.
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Car seats, booster seats and seat belts, when used correctly, can make a huge impact on your child’s safety. For babies under a year old, proper safety seats can reduce the risk of death by 71%. The risk goes to 54% for children between the ages of one and two.
On May 7, the Governor signed legislation updating NJ’s car seat safety rules, making them more specific and hopefully safer for kids. Here’s what you need to know about the changes taking effect.
– Children two years old and younger and weighing 30 pounds or less must remain in a rear-facing car seat with a five-point harness, even if your child’s feet push up against the back seat.
– Children two to four years old who weigh less than 40 pounds must be secured in a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat, both with a five-point harness.
– Children between the ages of four and eight years old and under 57 inches should be secured in a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness or a booster seat.
– If there are no back seats in the vehicle, the child may be secured in a car seat in the front of the car. However, if the child will be rear-facing, the passenger-side air bag must be disabled.
– New fines for not following these rules will be $50 and $75.
Montclair Police Officer Christopher Barnes, of the Community Service Unit, has been a trained Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) since 2005 and just became an Instructor for new CPSTs this year, says these changes are a good idea, especially if they make parents more aware of the right way to use safety seats. “Rather than focusing on enforcement, I hope this becomes more of an educational conversation,” says Officer Barnes. “These changes are not meant to be adversarial. They are really to help keeps kids safe.”
Criticism of New Jersey’s pre-Sept 1 laws said the were too vague, stating only children under eight years old and weighing less than 80 pounds must be secured in a car seat or booster seat. Most parents also keep babies under a year old and weighing less than twenty pounds rear-facing. The new legislation is more in line with the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Officer Barnes explains it’s important to understand when it’s safe to turn your child to front-facing, when to transition them to a booster and how to make sure that all the safety harnesses are properly secured. He adds, “Even the best car seat in the world won’t keep your child safe if it’s not used correctly.”
For Montclair parents who have questions about the car seat laws or would like help installing their car seats, Officer Barnes and Officer Rivera, the other CPST for the Montclair Police Department, are available to help. This is a free service provided by the Police Department’s Community Service Unit. The officers are available by appointment five days a week, throughout the day and into the evening. “There’s a lot of information online about car seats, especially when making a purchasing decision. There’s less information available on the mechanics of these seats,” says Officer Barnes. “There’s a lot you can learn from a trained technician.”
To learn more about car seat safety or to set up your car seat installation appointment, contact Officer Barnes at 973-509-4775, ext. 4635 or email@example.com. Officer Rivera can be reached at 973-509-4775, ext. 4642 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For both officers, email is suggested for a quicker response.
Parents can also take their car seats to the Essex Morris Car Seat Checkpoint. Note this free checkpoint follows the Livingston school district’s schedule. If the schools are closed or delayed due to snow, for example, so is the checkpoint.
Essex Morris Car Seat Checkpoint
Atlantic Ambulance Building
120 Dorsa Avenue, Livingston, NJ
Open Wednesdays: September through May: 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. / June, July, and August: 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.