Is your child under 4’9″? You’ll need a booster seat under new Washington law

SPOKANE, Wash.— A new law in Washington State goes into effect on January 1, with new requirements for kids in car seats and booster seats.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

The state’s law is about to change next week, hoping to keep your kids safer.

There is a fine of $139 per violation if you are caught driving with your kids, and they are not seated properly. However, a citation would be the least of your worries if you got into a car accident.

If you’re driving your child to middle school, they might need a booster seat. The new law said kids will have to use them until they are big enough to fit a seat belt properly. That’s when kids are at least four-feet nine-inches tall.

Kids that are shorter than that, the lap belt goes rides up on their soft tummy, and that can cause bad internal damage if they were to get into a crash, said Renee Witmer, a child passenger safety technician instructor with Safe Kids Spokane.

This means that most kids will have to be in a booster seat until they are between the ages of 10 and 12 years old.

Some may wonder what about adults? Witmer says adult bones are more developed than kids’ bones.

They don’t need that booster seat as much as a younger kid, who still has soft bones and immature muscular skeletal systems, Witmer said.

A few other changes, too kids under two years old have to be in a rear-facing car seat.

Kids aged two to four should be using forward-facing car seats.

However, Witmer says it’s best to keep kids rear-facing longer.

Rear-facing car seats protects the neck and spine, cradles that child in position in a crash, keeps them all in alignment, said Witmer. In a forward-facing crash, the straps are holding the child back but the head is not restrained.

Some may worry that their child’s legs being too long to sit rear-facing, but Witmer said they can cross their legs or hang it over the seat.

We don’t see injuries to rear facing kids legs. But, it doesn’t matter, they’ll find a way to be comfortable in that seat, she said.

If you think your kid is ready to be sitting in a seat without a booster seat, there’s a five-step test from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

The child’s back should be against the seat without slouching. Knees should be able to bend at the edge of the seat. The seat belt should be across the upper thighs and shoulder belt across the mid-shoulder. Feet need to be on the floor and the kid needs to be in the same position the entire trip.

Most accidents happen less than five minutes from your house, so keeping your kids safe, even a quick trip to the grocery store, or to the mall or whatever, said Witmer. Adults should always wear their seatbelts as well.​​​​​​​

About 60 percent of car seats are not installed correctly. There are a few places in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene that you can get your car seats checked at.

Safe Kids Spokane offers appointments, you can take a look here.

The MultiCare Deaconess Hospital also has a class coming up on January 4.

Kootenai Health has some inspections times, as well. Click here for the registration.