The Gainesville Police Department and the Governor's Office of Highway Safety gave away 100 new booster seats Saturday to help ease the transition to a new state law that goes into effect Friday.
The new law requires children to ride in properly secured and approved car seat or booster seat until they are 8 years old. The previous law only required children to ride in a booster seat until the age of 6.
Seat belts are designed to protect an adult who is at least 4-foot, 9-inches tall but they cannot properly fit young riders without a booster seat, which puts children at the correct height for a seat belt to be effective.
A properly fitting seat belt needs to reach across the shoulder bone and over the hips. The bones are the strongest part of the body and can handle the pressure of a seat belt in an accident, says Kim Martin, Safe Kids Coalition Coordinator.
"We don't want the seat belt riding up on the abdomen or the neck, because in a crash, that soft tissue, that can almost guarantee an injury if it's in those two places," Martin said.
Trained and certified technicians at the Gainesville Police Department checked and installed booster seats for parents while educating them on the new law and the proper way to install their car and booster seats at home.
"We really saw a need to educate the local community, we wanted to get the word out about what the new law actually consists of but also to help the community," Officer Kevin Holbrook said.
"We know times are hard, everywhere you look you see people having hard times, so we're actually able to give back to the community a little bit."
Parents were glad for help. One had lost his job several months ago and was not able to purchase a booster seat. He thanked the officers because he was able to obtain a free booster seat for his child.
Tara Miller of Gainesville brought her three young sons to the booster seat check before heading to Disney World for a family vacation. She says she wanted to be sure her children were safe in their vehicle before the long drive.
"I learned the proper places for them to sit in the vehicle and I learned when we're not using the car seats we need to have them strapped in with the seat belt anyway, so they won't move around during an accident," Miller said.
Breshay Barner of Gainesville came out to have her car seat inspected. She says she wanted to make sure her child is safe in the car and to make sure the booster seat was legal.
"I don't think any kid is happy about sitting in a booster seat, they'd rather be free," Barner said. "But I'm thinking it's better. They can see out of the window - it gives them a boost from the chair."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death for children younger than age 4. They also recommend that children younger than age 2 ride in a rear-facing car seat, and say they are 75 percent less likely to die or be seriously injured in cash.
Any parent who wishes to have an officer show them how to correctly install a car seat or to learn about car seat safety can go to the Gainesville Police Department every Tuesday from 9-11 a.m. or contact the Gainesville Fire Department at 770-534-3612; or Safe Kids at 770-219-8095.