Booster seat bill hits roadblock in Florida House

House Transportation Subcommittee chairman says government shouldn't play parent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On average, three children were killed every day in traffic crashes in the United States, according to 2016 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

In an effort to make the roads safer for children, Florida lawmakers are looking to increase the age children must be kept in booster seats, but some say the government shouldn’t be playing parent.

Tajiria Howard has a 1-year-old daughter. For now, she rides in a car seat. But Howard says once she turns 4, she'll move to a booster seat. 

"It's the safest thing. I don't want to not have a car seat and then something happen,” Howard said.

She says she’ll keep the booster seat until her daughter is 6. 

Florida law only requires a booster seat for children ages 5 and under, but new legislation would raise the age to 6 and under. 

"Just put a $20 or $30 booster seat in and potentially save kids from long-term disabilities and traumatic brain injuries we've seen that last a child their whole life,” said Senate sponsor Keith Perry, R-Gainesville.

In Atlantic Beach, News4Jax met Jimmy Horton, whose son who is just about the age he will no longer need to use a car seat and can move to a booster seat. Horton said safety is his first priority, but he believes the new legislation would not make much of a difference.

"That's just kind of a waste of time -- lawmakers' time," Horton said. "There are probably other laws they could be worried about."

The NHTSA recommends children age 7 and under should be restrained in a booster seat, but supporters hope increasing the age gradually will give the bill a better chance of passing.

However, House Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, says he doesn’t intend to give the bill a hearing, arguing the government shouldn’t be playing parent.

“I'm not real comfortable with a government making those choices that belong to the parents,” Drake said.

Mary Lynn Cullen, with the Advocacy Institute for Children, has been pushing for the change for years. 

“The fight’s not over yet,” Cullen said.

She points out that the $60 fine in the bill can be waived if the parent takes a booster seat safety course.

“This really is a learning bill, not a gotcha bill,” Cullen said.

Supporters of the bill hope opponents have a change of heart, arguing the more time that passes, the more children stand to be injured or even killed in accidents.

On Tuesday, supporters of raising the minimum age for booster states will hold a rally in the state Capitol. Speakers will include former first responders who have witnessed first-hand how dangerous it can be for young children to ride without booster seats.

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