Linda McKeown braved the heat and the line of cars at Fair Lakes on Thursday, April 18, to get professional help on her daughter Jenna's safety seat. She got additional information on booster seats, as well, from a bill passed recently that requires a booster seat for children up to 5 who are too big for the safety seats and too small for seat belts.
Jenna’s seat is either a child safety seat or a booster seat, depending on whether it is attached to the car seat by a regular seat belt.
"She just went into it," McKeown said, of the new seat for her daughter.
Cathy Chase, of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, was helping with the seat check, along with Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) officers, Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative (NOVEC) representatives and Del. Tom Bolvin (R-41st).
"All you have to do is put the seat in. The [auto seat] belt becomes the primary harness," Chase explained to McKeown.
Bolvin was there with his 10-month-old son. He joined efforts with Mary Margaret Whipple in the Virginia Senate to get Bill 1328 passed, which requires a booster seat.
"We wanted to make sure we had a House and Senate version. It was a nonpartisan effort. This bill is going to help save lives. Car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for children," he said, holding his son.
"This makes it personal for me," he said.
Information released by Bolvin's office stated, "The bill also allows restraining a child who is at least 4 years old but less than 6 years old with a standard automobile seat belt instead of a child-restraint device, if the weight and size of the child is such as to make the use of such seat belt practical and the use of an approved child restraint impractical."
FCPD officer Paul Anderson was manning the police trailer, which contained several different seat types. Some child safety seats can be converted to booster seats. Others are formed squares, similar to what would be used as a booster in a restaurant.
"There's several different styles of boosters. You don't want the seat belt cutting across the neck. This one is like a stack of phone books," he said.
FCPD officer Bob Wall was there as well.
"Through age 5, they need to be in some type of child restraint. It [booster] makes the adult belt fit them better. There are some seats that go from birth to belt," Wall said.
Richard Loehne, an officer from the McLean District Station, knew about one type by name but noted there were a few seat types that fit the description.
"There is one model called the Alpha Omega. You take off parts and rearrange it, and it fits," he said.
The law goes into effect July 1, but police and advocate groups are getting the word out now. NOVEC communications specialist Carla Julian was helping out.
"A lot of people found out about this through their day care," she said.
Bolvin held up the most basic booster.
"This is a $25 booster seat, so there's no excuse not to get one," he said.
Although Fair Lakes is out of Bolvin's district, he plans on doing demonstrations in the Springfield area as soon as he can get sponsors lined up.
He did note the flexibility in the law as well. If there is a 4-year-old that is too big or a 6-year-old that is too small for a belt, Bolvin did say there would be exceptions.
"There's an exemption for that," he said.