Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit highway safety advocacy organisation, applauded the passage of lifesaving legislation by the US Congress.

H.R. 5504, or Anton’s Law, directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to improve federal standards for child vehicle restraint systems — another important step in establishing comprehensive vehicle safety for young children.

Current federal safety vehicle standards cover children who weigh 50 pounds or less; Anton’s Law is designed to extend the standards to children who weigh over 50 pounds, typically children ages 4 to 8 years old.  Child passengers in this bracket are often referred to as “forgotten children,” because they have outgrown their child safety seat, but are too small for an adult seat belt to fit properly. 

Children in this group can suffer serious injuries and possible vehicle ejection as a result of using loose-fitting seat belts designed for adults.

Anton’s Law is named after Anton Skeen, a four-year-old boy who was ejected and killed in a car crash in Washington state.  As a result of this tragic event, Anton’s mother, Autumn Skeen, became a child booster seat pioneer when she succeeded in getting the first state booster seat law passed in Washington in March 2000.

The legislation also instructs NHTSA to require auto manufacturers to begin installing lap/shoulder belts in the centre rear seat by 2005.  By 2008, all new passenger vehicles will be required to have the rear seat equipped with a lap/shoulder belt system.  Currently, most new passenger vehicles are not manufactured with centre lap/shoulder belts in the rear seats.

Additionally, NHTSA will be required to evaluate injury criteria for children over 50 pounds; to look at how to improve seat belt fit for children over 50 pounds in booster seats; and to assess the options for young children whose only restraint in the back seats are lap belts.  The legislation also calls on NHTSA to develop a 10-year-old child test dummy, and to study of the benefits of built-in child safety seats and booster seats.

Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen and former NHTSA Administrator, said, “It’s time Congress recognised the need for more comprehensive booster seat and child restraint standards.  I am especially pleased to see that NHTSA will study the value of built-in booster seats. Built-in seats will greatly facilitate and encourage use and result in better protection for young children.”