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St. Mary’s promotes new law to protect kids riding in cars

Starting March 27, all children between the ages of 4-7 years old in New York state must be in a federally regulated child restraint system, such as a booster seat, when riding in cars, advocates said Monday while launching Child Passenger Safety Week at St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children in Bayside.Current law mandates that children under the age of 4 riding in a car's back seat must be restrained in a specially designed seat, but after that age children need not be placed in a special seat, an oversight which critics say can lead to severe injuries or worse in car accidents.Tom Louizou, regional administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that while 98 percent of New York drivers use infant seats to transport babies and 90 percent of drivers place children 4 years old and younger in safety seats, less than 20 percent of drivers place kids under 8 years old in safety seats."Among booster-age children, car accidents are the leading cause of death," he said.Supporters say the new law will protect children who are older than 4 years old but are still too small for seat belt restraints designed for adults."St. Mary's led the statewide advocacy program in an effort to get this law passed," said Dr. Burton Grebin, president of the hospital. New York is the 28th state to pass a law requiring booster seats.Queens Borough President Helen Marshall presented a proclamation to the hospital in recognition of its work on behalf of child safety. Noting that she was one of the original proponents of mandating the use of seatbelts when she was a state assemblywoman in the 1980s, she said the new law to put older children in safety restraints was equally crucial."Bumper seats do make a big difference for children," Marshall said, before declaring the day, Feb. 14, 2005, St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children's Day."For older little kids, safety belts are not sufficient," said City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who is the chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee. He said his own son, who is 4 years old, actually preferred sitting in a booster seat."Children are in no position to make themselves safe, so we need to make sure that our parents are aware of regulations," said state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights), who is also the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee. In particular, Sabini said he plans to assist low-income parents with training and obtaining a proper booster seat, and he plans to host a car seat giveaway in March somewhere in Corona."We want to make people aware and give them the tools, both knowledge-wise and hardware-wise, to make a child safe," he said.While calling attention to the new law, child advocates also noted the significant number of car seats that are improperly installed despite the best efforts of parents. They said the only way to make sure a seat is correctly placed in a car is to take it to a car-fitting clinic such as the one hosted each month by St. Mary's. There is a car-fitting clinic scheduled for Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, and the public is invited to call and make an appointment. The hospital also has coupons for $10 off a purchase of a booster seat, which can cost from $20 and up, from a local store.The hospital opened the first statewide agency for permanent car fittings in 2001, St. Mary's officials said. "When we first opened, more than 90 percent of the seats we saw were installed improperly," Grebin said. "Since then St. Mary's has checked more than 1,200 vehicles. We have made a significant difference." Hospital officials said that common car seat installation mistakes include not tightening the straps enough to secure the seat to the car. Violators of the new law will face civil fines ranging from $25 to $100, though parents of young children that are 4-foot-9 or taller may challenge the summons.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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