In Florida in recent years, there has been a disturbing increase in child injuries and fatalities resulting from car accidents. Across all 67 of the state's counties, crashes went from 56,084 (in 2013) to 66,091 (in 2015); injuries from 22,578 (in 2013) to 25,992 (in 2015); fatalities from 120 (in 2013) to 149 (in 2015). Because auto wrecks are the primary cause of death for children up to age 13, Florida law requires all children – from newborns to age 17 – be securely strapped into federally approved child restraints. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the following must be followed:
- Ages 6 to 17: mandatory seat belt
- Ages 4 to 5: built-in car seat, booster seat (requirement since January 2015) and crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device (height and weight will determine which one)
- Ages newborn to 3: separate car seat or vehicle's built-in child seat with a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device
Car seats must be the right size
The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles rundown also suggests that parents keep their children in the back seat until the age of 12. Although height and weight are not factored into the size of these children by their preteen years, the back-seat warning focuses on the danger of potential front air seat bags deploying. Officers may also call into question the size of the car seat. A driver can be ticketed for opting out of using a required car seat because it no longer fits the child. Before purchasing, make sure the car seat is a reasonable fit for that child and compatible with that vehicle. For drivers who need help installing a car seat, Florida Highway Patrol may be able to assist. This link provides reports on child seat safety recalls.
The car seat should also be properly installed and used each time. Florida's Safety Belt Law requires that the driver, front-seat passengers and all minors (under the age of 18) have on a safety belt. Although it is not required for back-seat passengers 18 or over, in the case of a crash, a back-seat passenger not properly restrained could prove to be dangerous for children in the back seat, too.
Drivers should keep in mind...
In addition to ensuring that children are properly secured in cars, Florida drivers should also note that children under 6 are not legally allowed to be in a running motor vehicle by themselves. For parked cars, they're not allowed to be inside alone for more than 15 minutes. If drivers are caught doing so, they risk a $500 fine and/or a second-degree misdemeanor. For children who are injured, drivers risk a third-degree felony.
A little caution on the part of Broward County drivers can help child passengers avoid serious injury or death. While personal injury lawsuits could help ease the financial burden in the aftermath of a car accident, doing everything to prevent those injuries in the first place should be at the forefront of every Fort Lauderdale driver's mind.