Should putting child in wrong car seat be considered child abuse?

New bill would toughen laws for those who leave children unrestrained in cars

By Jake Stofan - Tallahassee corespondent

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Newly filed legislation would impose stronger penalties in Florida for adults who don’t properly restrain their children in a car.

The Senate bill would allow incidents where unrestrained children are killed or injured to be investigated as child abuse.

In Florida, if your child isn’t wearing a seat belt, you face a minimum $60 fine. 

Still, Cpl. Patricia Johnson Shaw with the Florida Highway Patrol said, unrestrained children in vehicles remains a major problem.

“You'll have a lot of it, actually, when they're picked up from the schools and they're just jumping in the cars and the parents are taking off,” Shaw said.

Nationwide in 2016, 723 children age 12 years and younger died in motor vehicle crashes. Of those, 35 percent weren’t restrained.

“When you see that it's a child, it takes it to heart,” Shaw said. "And knowing that that child was not properly restrained, it makes it even worse."

A new bill filed for the 2019 session would allow the Department of Children and Families to investigate adults for child abuse if a child passenger is injured or killed because they weren’t properly restrained.

A recent study found that in a single year, more than 600,000 children in the United States rode in a car at least once without a seat belt or car seat.

Shaw said children are much more likely to ride unrestrained if their parents don’t set a good example.

“The example that you set as a parent, that's the example the kids see,” Shaw said. "If a kid doesn't see you strapped up, it's more likely that they wont strap up.”

In Florida, children 5 years old and younger are required to be restrained in a car or booster seat.

A House companion bill has not been filed yet, but is expected to come soon.

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