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Extra Enforcement to Watch for Safety Belts, Booster Seats: February 7 - 20
Sergeant Mark Davie
Oregon State Police - Patrol Services Division
(503) 934-0264
Carla Levinksi, Occupant Protection Program Manager
Oregon Department of Transportation
(503) 986-4199

Proper use of seat belts, child safety seats and booster seats will be on the minds of law enforcement officers during the February safety blitz sponsored by the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Safety Division. The campaign, which runs Feb. 7 – 20, involves over a hundred Oregon law enforcement agencies and is aimed at preventing or minimizing car crash injuries.
Consistent safety belt use is the single most effective way to protect motor vehicle occupants from injury and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2009 in Oregon, lack of belt use was a major factor in half of the motor vehicle occupant deaths, and improper restraint use can be especially dangerous for young passengers.
“Last year in Oregon, 247 — or one third — of the children injured or killed in crashes were using adult belt systems instead of child safety seats,” said Carla Levinski, Occupant Protection Program manager for ODOT. “Had they been riding in child seats appropriate for their size, it’s possible their injuries could have been minimized or even avoided altogether.”
Despite Oregon law, a wealth of statistics attesting to the lifesaving benefits of restraints use, and the universal availability of belts as standard auto safety equipment, some people still don’t use their safety belt. This has inspired local law enforcement to pay serious attention to people who are not buckling up or who fail to ensure that their child passengers are safely secured in the proper system.
“Oregon law requires everyone to buckle up every time, every trip,” said Levinski. “Unbuckled occupants endanger themselves and all other occupants if they become projectiles in a crash.”
Oregon law requires the following for children too small to fit into adult belt systems:
  • A child weighing less than 40 pounds must be restrained in a child safety seat.
  • A child under one year of age or weighing less than twenty pounds must be restrained in a child safety seat, rear-facing.
  • A child over forty pounds but under age eight or less than 4’9” tall must be restrained in a booster seat that elevates the child so the lap/shoulder belts fit correctly.
“Some parents still seem unconvinced of the benefits of booster seat use over adult safety belts for young children,” Levinski said. She offered the following tests to determine if a child is ready for an adult safety belt system instead of a booster:
  • Can the child sit on the vehicle seat so his whole back is touching the seatback?
  • Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
  • Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
  • Is the lap belt touching the tops of her legs?
  • Can the child sit like this for the whole trip?
If you answered “yes” to all these questions, and the child meets the law's age eight or four foot nine inches in height criteria, then the child is ready to transition from booster to adult belt system. In addition, while it is not law in Oregon, it is strongly recommended that children aged twelve and under ride in rear seating positions. Research indicates that rear seating reduces the risk of injury by 37 percent for that age group. To help ensure your child is properly restrained, follow the car seat manufacturer’s directions and your vehicle owner manual, or visit www.childsafetyseat.org, where you can find tips for child passenger safety and a schedule of free child safety seat clinics held regularly throughout Oregon.
“Proper use” is required by Oregon law and means using the appropriate type of restraint. For adults, than means using the entire belt system, lap belt low across hips, and shoulder belt over collarbone and crossing center of chest. Belts should be free of slack and lying flat with no twists or knots. If the shoulder belt portion of an adult safety belt rides up onto the neck or feels uncomfortable, comfort may be increased by sliding the built-in adjuster up or down or by moving seat position. Shoulder belt should NOT be placed under the arm or behind the back – this can cause serious internal injuries or ejection in a crash. Vehicle dealers or vehicle manufacturer’s customer service departments can help with repair, installation or retrofitting of safety belts.
Oregon’s safety belt enforcement and child passenger safety education programs have reaped impressive success. Since the 1990 passage of an adult belt law, observed belt use among the motoring public has more than doubled from 50% to 97% while the crash fatality and injury rates have decreased by 49% and 44% respectively. Oregon’s 2010 belt use rate was 97% and ranks within the top five state rates nationally.