Blunt promotes bill requiring booster seats for older children

Thursday, June 29, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Grace Keenan might have to stay in a booster seat until she is 8 years old under a bill Gov. Matt Blunt promoted Wednesday. But the 5-year-old and her twin sister, Sarah, don't mind.

The girls, who delivered thank-you notes to the governor during a bill-signing event at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, said the restraints are important.

"Because if you didn't wear it you might fall out of your seat," Grace said.

Children can switch to seat belts before age 8 if they reach 80 pounds or 4-feet-9 inches tall. Previously, booster seats were required for children up to 4 years of age.

"I'm always reluctant to create government requirements, but this is a requirement that makes sense," said Blunt, the father of a 1-year-old boy.

Blunt planned to officially sign the legislation into law along with other measures at the Capitol today.

The booster-seat measure had the backing of safety advocates, who say small children aren't properly protected with a seat belt and need booster seats until they grow big enough for belts made to fit adults.

But critics cited the inconvenience -- and cost -- for parents and called it an unwarranted government intrusion on private lives. They also said it could create problems for parents who transport their children's friends.

"I think the quote that sums it up the most is 'It's overreaching governmental intervention. It's the nanny state run amok,'" Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, said Wednesday.

In the midst of the legislative debate, Ridgeway said Blunt's baby would seek the repeal of the law when he is older.

On Wednesday, Blunt said of his son: "He hates his car seat and I'm sure he'll hate his booster seat." But Blunt stressed that the seats are inexpensive, with some models costing around $20, and have the potential to prevent injuries and save lives.

Dr. Kevin Kelly, chairman of pediatrics at Children's Mercy, said small children who are secured with only a safety belt sometimes experience injuries to their intestines and spines in crashes, injuries that "will result potentially in death."

Missouri could earn about $850,000 in federal grants because of the law. Half of the money could be used to buy booster seats for poor families, and the rest would go to help with education, training of car-seat inspectors and for law enforcement, Missouri Department of Transportation officials said.

The bill also ups the ante for those who speed, pass another vehicle or commit other traffic offenses in construction zones.

The bill creates the crime of "endangerment of a highway worker," with criteria such as going more than 15 mph over the speed limit in a work zone with a worker present, failing to stop when a worker directs a driver to do so, or intentionally striking construction barrels.

Violations in which no one was hurt could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and four points against a license. If a highway worker is hurt or killed, offenders could receive a fine of up to $10,000 and 12 points -- enough to have their licenses revoked for a year.

The bill also includes provisions intended to protect motorcyclists, a measure commonly referred to as "Clutch's Law," in honor of John Michael "Clutch" Clubine, who was killed in October 2001 when a motorist failed to yield and crashed into his motorcycle.

Under the bill, drivers who don't properly yield and are involved in fatal accidents face a $1,000 fine and could have their licenses suspended for six months. Those involved in injury accidents would face lesser fines and license suspensions.

The bill increases the penalty for motorists who don't move over when approaching an emergency vehicle. Also, the bill makes it a felony if someone fails to stop for a school bus and a child is injured, and a higher felony -- with a prison sentence of up to seven years -- if a child dies.

Blunt also planned to sign separate legislation Thursday lowering the minimum age of blood donors to 16, with parental consent -- something that blood banks hoped would boost donations. Previously, people had to be at least 17 to donate.

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