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New child safety seat law goes into effect Monday

Starting Monday, all children younger than 8 years of age will be required to use a child safety seat while in a motor vehicle, unless the child is 4 feet 9 inches or taller.

The law was already on the Maryland books, but had an exemption for children who weighed more than 65 pounds.

The Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 185 and House Bill 313 during this year's regular session to remove the weight exemption, which was not in line with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A child safety seat is a device, including a child booster seat, which the manufacturer has certified as being made in agreement with federal safety standards and used to restrain, seat or position a child while being transported in a motor vehicle, according to a news release from Maryland State Police.

A child safety seat must be properly installed and used in accordance with the directions of the manufacturer.

"The reason why the height is really important is because if a child is not sitting properly in a vehicle seat, their knees will not really bend comfortably over the seat bottom, and their lap belt may be riding up on their belly and it may be pulling up against their neck," said Christine Delise, a public affairs specialist with AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Even if a child weighs more than 65 pounds, but is under 4 feet 9 inches, their height is what would prevent the seatbelt from fitting properly and could require the use of a booster seat, she said.

This Maryland law is only applicable to children younger than 8 years of age, she said, but children older than 8 who are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches need the protection of a booster seat just as much.

"We're really recommending that kids are still in a booster seat if they are on the shorter side," Delise said. "It's not law, but it's still best practice."

Maggie Rauser of Safe Kids Carroll County said she is glad to see the law changed to be more protective of children.

"It really makes a lot of sense," she said.

The Carroll County Health Department offers child safety seat clinics several times a month to help parents learn how to properly install child safety seats and answer any questions about the law or using proper safety seats for their children.

"A lot of parents and caregivers are aware of a booster [seat] law, but they don't know it," she said.

The next child safety seat check will be Oct. 7 at the Mount Airy fire department, she said, and anyone interested in having a seat check should call her office to make an appointment.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car crashes are the leading cause of death of children in the United States.

Maryland State Police Sgt. Marc Black said the child safety seat law is a primary offense that results in tickets being written for drivers who are not providing safe transportation for their children.

"Not everyone puts their child in child safety seats as they're supposed to, so unfortunately, that's why we have that law on the books," Black said.

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