December 14, 2001 11:00 pm
RIDING SAFE:Kayla Franks, 5, tries on the fit of a high-backed driving seat with help from Lois Rieke of theLa Grande Fire Department recently. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).
RIDING SAFE:Kayla Franks, 5, tries on the fit of a high-backed driving seat with help from Lois Rieke of theLa Grande Fire Department recently. (The Observer/T.L. PETERSEN).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

I tell kids that they can help Mom and Dad see where theyre going and be sure they dont drive past any McDonalds, Lois Rieke says.

The child passenger safety technician with the La Grande Fire Department is urging parents and grandparents if they arent ready for a new state law going into effect Jan. 1 to add a booster seat to the Christmas list.

The new law, House Bill 3155, requires that any child weighing 60 pounds or less, or between 4 and 6 years old, must use a booster seat when riding in a car or truck. That means any child age 6 or under, no matter how heavy, or any child of any age lighter than 60 pounds, must be safely secured with a booster seat.

The seats Rieke finds the term driving seats goes over better with youngsters than boosters are designed to make sure that lap and shoulder belts fit correctly. That way, children dont slide out of the belts in case of an accident.

Two types of booster seats are available at most stores, she said. One style has a simple raised seat designed for use in vehicles that have seats high enough to cushion the back of the childs head. The other style has a back that cushions the childs neck and head.

Both seats make it so that lap and shoulder belts fit snugly across the childs hips and across the collar bone, not around the waist or against the neck.

And the booster seats dont have to be installed with any additional belts or bolts.

Oregons new child seat belt law will be a leader in the nation, Rieke said. Every state has laws requiring the use of safety seats for children from birth to age 4, but Oregon is one of the first to address securing older children. California and Washington are working on new laws, but havent put them into place yet.

Rieke sees the need for the new law daily.

I see lots of kids standing up in cars, and lots of kids are still sitting in adult laps, she says.

While many adults will insist they can hold a baby or a child in the event of an accident, Rieke says it isnt worth the risk.

The dynamics of an accident show the worth of a safety seat. Say you have a 20-pound child traveling in a car that crashes at 30 miles per hour. This means that the person holding the child must hang on to 600 pounds of force trying to move away from the holder.

The formula is the weight of the child times the speed of the car.

Safety seats are designed to protect fragile necks and backs, and absorb the force of impact. Human arms arent.

According to information collected about child safety seat use, 95 percent of children between 4 and 8 years old are riding at risk. And toddlers using a

safety restraint system reduce their risk of death by 54 percent.

Rieke, a grandmother, wants to cut that risk by seeing children given every protection lap and shoulder belts can offer.

Anyone needing help in fitting a childs booster seat or car seat is welcome to call Rieke at the

La Grande Fire Department, 963-3123, during the week for help, she said. She asks people to call ahead and set up a time to come in.

Rieke suggests a simple way to convince yourself if you think a child doesnt need a booster seat:

1. Does the child sit all the way back against the car seat?

2. Can the childs knees bend comfortably at the edge of the car seat?

3. Is the lap belt below the tummy?

4. Is the shoulder belt centered on the shoulder and chest?

5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, a booster seat is needed, she said.

Not having a child in a proper seat belt restraint system will be a Class D traffic violation, according to the new law. The governor signed the law June 28

As Rieke says, this could be one Christmas present that is a true gift of love.