Eleven-month-old Raegan Adams was all smiles and giggles as her grandmother went through the car seat inspection program checklist with two Juneau Police Department community service officers Wednesday afternoon.
"She needs to be safe," said Terry Etheridge of her granddaughter. "I know my driving, but you never know who else is on the road."
The department has been offering the free program for about a year to help parents and caregivers understand how to properly install car seats and secure children in them.
A new statewide car seat law went into effect this week requiring children to use a booster seat if they weigh between 40 and 65 pounds and are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches. Alaska is the 48th state to institute a booster seat law.
"This is when kids grow out of their normal 5-point restraint car seat so the next step would be the booster seat," community service officer Kathy Underwood said.
Before the booster law went into effect this week, all children up to 40 pounds were required to be in a car seat while driving in a motor vehicle. Drivers can face a $50 fine and two demerits on a driver's license if caught out of compliance with the new state law. First-time offenders can have the ticket voided if they purchase a booster seat.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, the average weight of American children aged 4 to 7 falls roughly into the 40 to 65 pound weight range.The police department has begun helping people properly install the booster seats as part of the car seat inspection program. Having a child in a booster seat has a "pretty dramatic safety increase" for a child, Underwood said.
"It also raises where their head level is, so in the event of a side impact crash they would not be in the line of the actual crash," she said. "Booster seats are very important."
A lot of people are probably unaware of the new regulation and many will likely ignore it, Etheridge believes.
"It's quite an expense and if you have more than one kid and try to put them in the back seat, it's going to be an issue to make them all work," she said.
Booster seats can range from about $28 to $125, depending on the model.
For people that can't afford them, JPD has a number of car seats available at a reduced price.
Inspections take about 15 minutes.
"Basically we take down the basic information of the person getting the inspection and then it's a checklist that we go through to check all the safety steps to make sure it's installed correctly," community service officer Jennifer Adams said.
The officers discuss pertinent safety points, such as harness use, and answer any questions the parent or caregiver may have.
The department has been getting a lot of inquiries about the new booster seat regulation and has seen an increase of inspection requests, Adams said.
"In the spring we're usually very busy, in the summer it drops off and we're starting to pick back up in the fall as people are getting back to school and with the new seatbelt legislation that has passed into law," she said.
Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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