As thousands of families travel Oklahoma roads this Spring Break, there is presently no law requiring adults to buckle up children eight to 13 years old in the back seat. The Oklahoma House took the first step last week to change that, with passage of HB3026. The bill, authored by Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman), increases the age a child must be restrained by a seat belt when in a motor vehicle from 8 to 14 years old.
AAA Oklahoma joined traffic safety and child advocacy groups like Safe Kids Tulsa, Safe Kids Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office and the Oklahoma Injury Prevention Task Force in pushing for change. The law last updated in 2015 inadvertently omitted this age group. Here are some of the repercussions of not having a law mandating children eight to 13 wear seat belts:
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of Oklahoma children ages one to 18, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health – Injury Prevention Service. Our state fails to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that seat belts be worn by all children as they outgrow booster seats (typically 4’ 9” height) and that all children younger than 13 years ride in the rear seats of vehicles.
In the last five years, 5,198 Oklahoma children between the ages of 8 to 13 have been injured or killed in crashes in our state. 660 of those children were not wearing a seat belt or restrained in a car seat, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.
Law enforcement officers cannot require adults to belt child passengers and issue fines if not in compliance.
The National Transportation Safety Board estimates the number of deaths and injuries can be reduced by half each year if every child passenger is properly restrained in a motor vehicle. The average Oklahoman is in 5 crashes during a lifetime.
“Requiring children to ride securely in seat belts in the back seat is a proven way to save lives, says Beth Washington, coordinator, Safe Kids Tulsa Area. “This gap needs to be closed immediately as it puts children at great risk and was not the intent of previous legislation.”
Next, Sen. Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City), a physician, has indicated he will introduce the bill in the Senate.
“We are grateful to the representatives who voted in favor of this bill,” said Leslie Gamble, AAA Oklahoma spokesperson. “It is surprising that this fundamental protection for our children’s lives is not already law. We look forward to Sen. Yen’s’ leadership in the Senate to advance this measure before more lives are lost.”
Noting that Spring Break is in full swing and busy young families are always on the go, Gamble said young children may spend hours in vehicles each day. “AAA Oklahoma urges parents to always be sure their children are buckled up and in the back seats of vehicles for the best chance of survival should the unexpected occur." Videos and tips for making sure children of all ages are available to parents and others transporting children at http://safeseats4kids.aaa.com/car-seat-guide/seat-belts/.