LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan mom who decided to keep her 4-year-old daughter in a car seat says she doesn’t regret it.
In 2011, Dawn TerMolen followed her instincts and kept her daughter in a five-point harness car seat even though she was old enough at the time to move to a booster seat under state law.
“She was small, it was just safer,” TerMolen said. “There were a lot of friends with children the same age that moved their kids to a booster because it was easier, but… car accidents can happen in a split second … so why would you take that chance?”
That year, TerMolen was involved in a head-on crash in Grand Rapids Township that killed the other driver. TerMolen needed several surgeries after the crash to repair her kneecaps, a broken ankle and a collapsed lung.
Her daughter, Faith, was fine.
“I was just so grateful that Faith was still in a five-point harness. We replaced it with (one) and kept her in it for a really long time,” TerMolen said.
Current Michigan law states that a caregiver must keep a child younger than age 4 in a car seat in the backseat, if the vehicle has one. The law says children must be “properly buckled in a car seat or booster seat until they are 8 years old or 4’9’’ tall.”
Exceptions are allowed for children with medical conditions or other conditions that prevent them from using a specific seat; their parent or guardian must file that request with the Secretary of State’s Office. The law also does not apply to school buses.
THE NEW BILL
The Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Committee held a hearing Wednesday morning on House Bill 4951, which would update those rules to match the current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which were updated the same hear as TerMolen’s car crash.
The bill states that children must:
- Stay in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 2 years old or weigh 30 pounds.
- Stay in a front-facing seat with a five-point-harness until they are 5 years old or weigh 50 pounds.
- Stay in a booster seat until they are 8 years old, or at least 4 feet 9 inches tall.
The bill would still allow car seat exceptions for children with conditions that prevent them fro using a specific seat, as well as public buses.
Jennifer Hoekstra is an injury prevention specialist with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and testified during the Wednesday’s bill hearing.
“This proposed legislation is truly going to get us a recommendation with what our moms and dads are hearing at their doctor’s office. When they go online and Google… there’s a lot of mixed messages, (and) we greatly need to have it standardized,” she said.
When questioned about the cost to parents, Hoekstra told lawmakers the seat she brought with her for Wednesday’s hearing costs $99 at Target or Walmart, and can accommodate a child from 5 pounds up to 65 pounds, which means most parents would never have to buy another car seat for that child.
“We’re not asking parents to go out and buy a very specialized seat to meet the changes that are proposed,” she said.
Sgt. Timothy Fitzgerald of the Michigan State Police also testified Wednesday about how this law would be enforced, if it passes.
He said drivers who do not have their child properly restrained would be ticketed, but could have that ticket waived if they contact a car seat technician to learn the proper ways to safely transport their child.
If the driver doesn’t contact a car seat technician, they would be responsible for at least an $85 fine, possibly more depending on the jurisdiction.
Fitzgerald says officers rarely pull a driver over just because their child is improperly restrained, but they would likely ticket a driver if they noticed the problem while stopping their vehicle for another violation, like speeding.
“So if I stop you for speeding and I’m talking to you and notice that your child is not restrained properly, that’s an opportunity for me to educate you,” Fitzgerald explained.
Ultimately, the House committee approved the bill, sending it to the full House for consideration.
LESSON FROM FAITH
TerMolen’s daughter Faith is now 10 years old and out of her car seat.
No matter the outcome of the bill, TerMolen hopes her story will make parents think twice about switching their child’s safety seat. She doesn’t want to think about what could’ve happened if Faith wasn’t in a car seat, and she doesn’t want other families to have to go through that either.
“It breaks my heart when I see other parents not putting their kids in their car seats just because I know how quickly it can happen. And I’m thankful we made the decision that we did. I hope other people would make that same decision,” she said.