NHTSA-Led Programs and Activities
To Increase Booster Seat Use

Anton’s Law Mandates Additional Child Passenger Safety Actions

On November 1, 2002, Congress enacted Public Law 107–318, also known as “Anton’s Law,” which contains additional provisions to improve the safety of child restraints in passenger motor vehicles, especially for older-child passengers.

Anton’s Law called on NHTSA to undertake a number of actions, including:

  • Establishment of performance requirements for child restraints, including booster seats, for children weighing more than 50 pounds (40 pounds was the upper weight limit of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213, which governs child restraints);

  • Examination of situations in which children weighing more than 50 pounds only have access to seating positions with lap belts (a less preferable option than lap/shoulder belts, which offer greater head and upper torso protection than lap belts alone);

  • Development and evaluation of an anthropometric test device that simulates a 10-year-old child for use in testing child restraints in passenger vehicles; and

  • Requiring a lap-and-shoulder belt assembly for each rear-designated seating position be provided in a passenger motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less.

The law was named in memory of Anton Skeen, a 4-year-old boy who was killed in a rollover crash in Washington State in 1996. Anton, who was sitting in the right front seat of his family’s vehicle, and was wearing a lap/shoulder belt, was ejected from the vehicle, and died. The belt remained buckled even after Anton had been ejected. After losing her son, Autumn Alexander Skeen, a local journalist, did extensive research on booster seats and prompted the Washington State legislature to pass the country’s first mandatory booster seat provision, also dubbed “Anton’s Law.” She was also instrumental in advocating for the enactment of Federal legislation.

NHTSA Implements Legislative Mandates

To fulfill the directives in the TREAD Act and Anton’s Law, and to combat this trend among older-child passengers -- both booster-seat-age children 4 to 8 and children 8 through 15 -- NHTSA has initiated and expanded a variety of programs and initiatives.

These include accelerated research, upgraded crash-testing protocols, development of a new anthropometric crash test dummy to approximate the size of a booster-seat-age child, a new three-year public service advertising campaign in cooperation with the Advertising Council, and implementation of a community demonstration program to determine effective ways to increase booster seat use at the local level.

While the bulk of the efforts to date have focused on the safety of booster-age children, NHTSA will soon conduct similar activities addressing the needs of children 8 to 15.

Booster Seat Use Recommendation Revised to Emphasize Age and Height

In 2002, after considerable agency-wide discussion and dialogue with key national partner organizations, NHTSA revised its best practice recommendation for booster seat use. The updated recommendation is: “All children who have outgrown child safety seats should be properly restrained in booster seats until they are at least 8 years old, unless they are 4’ 9” tall.”

The agency made this modification in order to offer parents and caregivers the best possible guidance about when children can safely use vehicle safety belt systems. A child’s weight was determined to be the least valuable predictor of when a vehicle’s adult lap/shoulder belt will provide optimal protection for child passengers. A child’s age and height were determined to be far more reliable in this regard.

Final Rule Issued Requiring Lap/Shoulder Belts in Rear-Center Seating Positions

On December 8, 2004, NHTSA announced a final rule requiring that rear center seats in all new passenger vehicles be equipped with lap/shoulder safety belts. All passenger vehicles will be required to comply with the new rule by 2008, when NHTSA estimates the change will result in 10 to 23 fewer highway fatalities per year, and 245 to 495 fewer injuries. It comes in response to Anton's Law, passed to increase child passenger safety and to encourage the use of booster seats by older children.

"This rule will greatly improve safety for both children and older people," said former NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D. "One huge advantage is that lap-and-shoulder belts can be used with belt positioning booster seats, making the rear center seat the safest place for older children."

Manufacturers were not previously required to install shoulder belts in rear center seating positions, although many automakers did so voluntarily. Rear center seating positions are the favored location among parents for their children to ride due to their position furthest away from the point of impact in a side collision. As stated previously, booster seats must be used with the lap-and-shoulder belt system, never with the lap belt only.

Since 1989, NHTSA has required that all rear-window-side seats in new passenger vehicles be equipped with lap/shoulder belts. As of December 2004, 23 percent of new passenger cars, along with 51 percent of new vans and light trucks (SUVs and pickups), are only equipped with lap belts for use by rear-center-seat passengers.

In addition to cars and light trucks, the new rule applies to 12- and 15-passenger vans. Side-facing seats are exempt. The rule will be phased in by manufacturers, with half of model year 2006 passenger vehicles offering the lap/shoulder safety belts, increasing to 80 percent of vehicles in model year 2007 and 100 percent in model year 2008.

Effectiveness of State Booster Seat Use Requirements to Be Examined

As of November 1, 2005, legislatures in 33 States and the District of Columbia had enacted booster seat use requirements for older-child passengers (see pages 16-17, preceding). NHTSA initiated a research effort in 2004 to determine the effect of these provisions on parents’ and caregivers’ level of knowledge about the requirements, their perceptions of risk of being cited and fined for non-compliance, and their actual use of booster seats.

Focus groups of parents, caregivers, and police officers will be conducted in States with both upgraded and non-upgraded child restraint laws to determine the influence of booster seat use requirements on parental practices. In addition, a specialized analysis of related fatality patterns in States with booster seat use requirements will be conducted to determine the link, if any, between the existence of a booster seat use requirement and fatalities among booster-aged children.

Booster Seat Demonstration Program in Full Swing

A NHTSA-funded three-year demonstration program to increase booster seat use was begun by the Think First National Injury Prevention Foundation (see www.thinkfirst.org) in October 2003. Community sites selected for this demonstration program include San Diego, California; Wilmington, Delaware; DuPage County, Illinois; and Charleston, South Carolina.

The thrust of this Cooperative Agreement is two-fold: (1) To conduct targeted and replicable community activities to increase the number of booster-age children riding in booster seats; and (2) to determine effective strategies to reduce the number of unrestrained children in this age group riding at high risk of serious injury and death.

The program includes the development of a tool to directly observe booster seat use and periodic observations of child safety seat and booster seat use. A variety of interventions will be developed and conducted -- including physician counseling, faith-based advocacy and school-based educational activities -- to stimulate increased booster seat use.

Other Research Activities

  • NHTSA began a research project in October 2003 on ways to increase correct restraint use among children 8 to 15. In addition to this ongoing research project, NHTSA plans to award funding in 2005 for a demonstration program focused on increasing correct restraint use among children 8 to 15.

  • A follow-up study beginning in 2005 will examine strategies to improve enforcement efforts for law enforcement, and identify promising educational campaigns directed to parents about new, more stringent provisions in their States’ child occupant protection laws.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded multiyear grants in 2003 to Michigan and Colorado to demonstrate effective strategies for increasing booster seat use.

  • Another NHTSA-funded research project was begun in 2002 to examine the effects of mandatory booster seat use provisions on actual booster seat use in Colorado, Maine, and Maryland. The study will be completed in 2005 and examines changes in booster seat usage in the three States before and after the booster seat use requirements took effect. Preliminary results suggest that booster seat usage increased in States with more-precise-language laws and enforcement of these laws. Also, in some cases, the study found that enforcement of the laws was difficult to implement.

Education and Public Information Activities Pick Up Speed

bus sign - reads 4 foot, 9 inches is the magic number, until then kids need a booster seatA three-year NHTSA/Ad Council booster seat public service advertising campaign was launched during Child Passenger Safety Week in February 2004. The campaign included radio ads, a television ad, a new Web site dedicated to booster seat use (www.boosterseat.gov), and a teacher’s guide designed for use in elementary school classrooms. The radio and television ads are available in both Spanish and English.

As part of Year Two of the NHTSA booster seat campaign, in October 2005, the Walt Disney Company released a special “platinum edition” DVD of the classic animated film Cinderella with a booster seat cause marketing tie-in. (Cinderella has not previously been available on DVD.)

In partnership with NHTSA and the Ad Council, the Walt Disney Company created television, radio and outdoor (billboard) Cinderella ads, with the television spots using footage from the original animated feature film. In addition to the television and outdoor ads, a two-page, four-color spread is included in the DVD insert promoting the booster seat message.