Children Dying from Lack of “Restraint”

Child in a car seat

Father putting his child in a car seat
On November 14 of last year, a Texas woman loaded her four children into the car and went for a drive. The children ranged in age from 8 months to 6 years. None were wearing seat belts and the baby was not in a car seat. Suddenly one of the unlocked doors flew open, hurling the 8-month-old infant onto the highway where he was struck and killed by oncoming traffic.

A similar incident occurred last month in Kentucky where a Mom crashed the car, killing her 8-year-old child and injuring an 11-year-old. Neither of the kids were wearing seat belts.

And, that same day, a Greensboro man ran a red light on Freeman Mill Road and crashed into a car that was turning onto Randleman Road. His 4-year-old niece was killed. She was not wearing any kind of restraint.

I wish I could say these three tragic incidents were isolated and rare, but I can’t. The truth is, nationwide over 60,000 children are injured each year in motor vehicle accidents, and that includes over 600 fatalities. Here in North Carolina, car crashes are the leading cause of unintentional death for children. Even more tragic is that most of these deaths could have been prevented. According to the North Carolina Department of Insurance, nine out of 10 children are unrestrained when riding in a vehicle. Given that statistic, one would think that child restraints are optional. Just the opposite. In fact, child safety seats are required in all 50 states. But even if a parent wasn’t aware of the law, wouldn’t common sense prevail? Parents are instinctively supposed to protect their children. They shouldn’t have to be told by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that car seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants, and by 54% for toddlers (ages 1 to 4). It shouldn’t take the death of a child to make someone a more aware and more responsible parent. We also shouldn’t let negligent parents off with just a slap on the wrist, and that brings me to enforcement.

Just as penalties for drunk drivers vary from state to state and county to county, so too do punishments for parents who endanger their children by not having their toddlers secured in car seats and their children buckled up in seat belts. Fines are often left to the discretion of local judges and are dependent upon a variety of circumstances. 

Following the Freeman Mill road crash, for example, the Greensboro News & Record reported that police officials issued a public reminder about car restraint laws, which include that children younger than 8 years old and who weigh less than 80 pounds must be properly secured in a child restraint or booster seat. Children younger than 5 years old and less than 40 pounds must be in the rear seat. And, when a child reaches age 8 regardless of weight or weighs 80 pounds, he must wear a seat belt. Yet parents who violate these regulations will probably only have 2 points added to their driving record and pay a fine of less than $250. The exception is if a child dies as a result of the violation, in which case prosecutors could charge the parent with endangerment. But even that crime has no strictly prescribed penalty and could result in a sentence of as little as six months in jail. Meanwhile, a parent who is drunk while driving, and crashes their car resulting in the death of a child might only serve seven days behind bars. 

Clearly what we need is for Congress to enact legislation that would make it a federal crime to cause the death of a child due to lack of a proper restraining device. That might not prevent some parents from breaking the law, but the severe penalties that it would carry might make others think twice about refusing to put their toddler in a car seat before pulling out of the driveway.


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