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Moorhead girl's injuries inspire new child-restraint rules

A new child passenger restraint law takes effect Wednesday that was created with help from the family of a Moorhead girl who suffered serious injuries in a car crash in 2008.

Installing a child booster seat
Public health nurse and certified child passenger safety technician Connie Sundquist shows how to properly install a child booster seat in the back of a van Friday morning. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

A new child passenger restraint law takes effect Wednesday that was created with help from the family of a Moorhead girl who suffered serious injuries in a car crash in 2008.

Under the new law, any child who is under the age of 8 and shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches tall is required to be fastened in a child booster seat, or safety seat, that meets federal standards.

In other words, a child cannot use a seat belt/shoulder belt alone until they are 8 years old, or 4 feet, 9 inches tall, whichever comes first.

"A seat belt is made for a 175-pound, 6-foot man. It is not made for a little child," said Bobbi Paper, injury prevention coordinator with MeritCare Children's Hospital.

"If the seat belt is not fitting the child correctly, they're going to have some major internal injuries. It could be a fatal crash. It's very important that they're buckled up correctly," said Paper.

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The new law was passed after the family of Brynn Duncan of Moorhead testified to legislators in St. Paul about the injuries the girl suffered in a traffic crash in Fergus Falls, Minn.

The girl, who was 7 at the time, was wearing a seat belt, but she was not in a booster seat or car seat.

"Parents look to the law for advice, so the law really needs to say: 'This is where we need to be to keep kids safe,' '' said Paper.

"It's not that parents don't care," she added. "It's just that knowledge base."

Moorhead Police Lt. Joel Scharf said improper child restraint is fairly common.

"We get citizens who call and report seeing small children in cars who are not properly restrained. It's more common than it should be," said Scharf.

"Hopefully this law is going to bring the attention we need to dramatically reduce the type of injuries associated with improper restraint use," he added.

Like Minnesota's new seat-belt law, the new child restraint rule is a primary offense, meaning officers can make a traffic stop if they observe a violation.

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A ticket costs approximately $140, according to Scharf.

He said some people who don't buckle children up the correct way are living on luck.

"You also see a generational thing," Scharf added, stating that older generations that didn't grow up with booster seats and car seats don't always see a need to use them with grandchildren.

Booster seats, which help seat belts fit properly, are generally for children 4 to 8 years old, according to Paper.

"Anybody under 40 pounds and under 4 years old should be in a car seat," she added, referring to a device that straps a child into a safety seat that is then anchored to a vehicle's seat.

According to Minnesota statistics, 44 children under the age of 10 were killed on Minnesota roads between 2004 and 2008. Of those, 32 were not in child restraints, or the restraints were used improperly.

"We want to do everything we can to reduce those numbers," said Scharf.

Clay County has applied to a program that would provide booster seats to low-income families, according to Connie Sundquist, a public health nurse.

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"We're looking toward helping out a little bit in that way," said Sundquist.

Booster seat facts

  • Seventy percent of Minnesota children ages 4 to 8 are riding either unbelted or not in a properly fitted booster seat.
  • In 2008, 454 children ages 4 to 7 were injured in traffic crashes in Minnesota; 63 percent of the victims were either unrestrained or only wearing lap and shoulder belts.
  • In Minnesota, vehicle passengers ages 4 to 7 in lap and shoulder belts but not booster seats are two-and-a-half times more likely to be injured than those in properly installed booster seats.
  • In the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 4 to 16.
  • Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

Installing a child booster seat
MeritCare's Bobbi Paper talks about the importance of children riding in booster seats. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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