WASHINGTON -- The family car will be safer for preschoolers and older children under legislation overwhelmingly approved by Congress and expected to be signed by President Bush.
Named "Anton's Law" after a 4-year-old killed in 1996 when an adult seat belt failed to hold him in a crash, the bill sets federal auto safety standards for children weighing more than 50 pounds, requires automakers to install shoulder belts in rear center seats, and promotes research into how best to protect older kids.
In auto safety parlance, children ages 4 to 8 are known as "forgotten children" because they are too old for conventional child seats, yet their bodies are not big enough to be effectively protected by adult seat belts. The legislation, passed late Monday, aims to close that loophole.
"These children are in danger without some extra kind of protection after they leave that child seat and go on to the adult seat belt," said Autumn Skeen, Anton's mother. "This bill is saying, 'Look, this is a really important aspect of public health.' " A writer from Walla Walla, Wash., Skeen became a safety advocate after her son's death.
Doctors and safety experts strongly recommend that parents use booster seats for 4- to 8-year-olds who have outgrown conventional child seats.
Most booster seats are essentially pads that allow children to sit higher in a vehicle so that adult lap and shoulder belts do not cut across their stomachs and necks.
Emergency-room doctors have documented a pattern of abdominal and neck injuries in children as a result of using adult belts.
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