Most children under 7 would have to ride in a booster seat or other safety seat under legislation filed Monday in the state Senate.
The proposal – which federal officials have been pushing Florida to pass for several years – is aimed at avoiding injuries to children who remain too small to be adequately protected by an adult seatbelt, even after they're too big for infant car seats.
Florida is one of three states that don't require older children to ride in a booster seat after age 4.
Children over 4 feet 9 inches would be exempt from the new requirement under the bill (SB 66), filed by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera. It has no companion in the House, where no bills have been filed yet for this legislative year. Altman also carried the same bill last year, but it failed to pass.
Advocates say children with smaller body frames don’t fit properly in seat belts, and sometimes are injured even worse in crashes because of them. Backers also say poor children are particularly at risk – because they may not regularly see a pediatrician who would tell their parents that.
Florida passed the requirement in 2001, but Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed it. He said at the time he was concerned that the bill might hurt low-income families, and that it went beyond the requirements of other states – something that has since changed.
Bush also said in his veto message that "we must place some trust in parents and recognize that almost every parent in our state, more so than government, wants their child to lead healthy, safe lives."
Opponents have argued they weren't convinced that the seats had a marked likelihood of preventing deaths, though backers say there is statistical evidence of it.
It's the second auto safety measure filed for the upcoming legislative session, which officially begins in March, but begins committee hearings next week. Last week, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, filed legislation (SB 52) that would ban texting and driving, though it would only allow police to ticket motorists for the offense if they've been pulled over for something else.