New Wisconsin Seatbelt Laws Will Save Lives

At Laufenberg, Stombaugh & Jassak, S.C., one of our priorities is representing victims of auto accidents. We take pride in providing legal representation for those who have suffered injuries due to no fault of their own, and sometimes we represent clients who went through particularly brutal auto accidents. We can say with absolute certainty that the difference between a recoverable injury and certain death in many of these cases was the proper use of seatbelts and child restraints. With the summer driving season upon us, and with many Americans taking driving vacations with their families, we thought it would be prudent to share some important statistics regarding seatbelt use.

According to the Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the number one cause of death among children in the United States is auto accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that in 2004, 1,638 children aged 14 or younger died in auto accidents, and approximately 214,000 in that age group suffered injuries. If you average that out, that’s 5 deaths and 586 injuries every day. As bad as these numbers are, a startling 50% of the kids who died in 2004 weren’t wearing seatbelts or using safety seats.

The seatbelt laws on the books of Wisconsin (which make seatbelt use mandatory for anyone under the age of 16) are there for a pretty good reason. Kids generally follow the lead of adults, and if you don’t put your seatbelt on, it’s likely they won’t either. Regular seatbelt use can not only dramatically improve your chances of surviving a catastrophic accident, but also the chances of your loved ones. On January 1st, 2007, the provision that absolves drivers of responsibility for unbelted passengers over the age of 16 will be rescinded, which means that you are responsible for making sure that everyone in your car is wearing some sort of seat restraint. So being lenient or careless about seatbelts could, at the very least, cost you a substantial fine.

Wisconsin also requires the use of car safety seats for children. The requirements for these seats are tiered, meaning they change as the child gets older or bigger. The requirements are as follows:

  • Children under one year of age or weighing less than 20 pounds are required to be placed in a rear-facing safety seat, which is also required to be placed in the backseat of the car. Placing a rear-facing child safety seat in the front places the child in danger of being injured by a passenger side airbag in the event of an accident.
  • Children that are between one and four and weigh between 20 and 40 pounds are required to be placed in a forward-facing safety seat, and this seat must still be placed in the backseat.
  • Children between four and eight that weigh between 40 and 80 pounds must all be in a forward facing booster seat, again in the back of the car.
  • When a child is over eight years old and over 80 pounds, he or she may then begin to use a regular seatbelt.

The responsibility doesn’t end in simply purchasing a car seat and placing your child in it. Learning the proper use of these restraining seats is crucial. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control cited a 1999 study claiming that out of 17,500 surveyed children, only 15% of them were properly placed into properly harnessed seats. In order to ensure that your child is safely restrained, you should always make sure of the following:

  • Face the seat in the correct direction. Infant seats always face backwards, with the baby in a semi-reclined position.
  • Pay attention to weight restrictions for all seats.
  • Snugly secure children. Allow no more than 1 finger width of slack between your child’s collarbone and the harness straps. If your seat has a harness retainer clip, place it at armpit level.
  • Anchor seats correctly. Secure safety seat with the vehicle’s safety belt. An improperly anchored seat will slide and tip. The seat instructions will tell you how to use the seat belt to secure your car seat. Check your vehicle’s manual for more information on where and how to anchor the child seat.

Wisconsin has an informative and easy to use website at that will give you all the information that you need in terms of requirements and proper use of child safety seats.

Ensuring that all the passengers in your vehicle are wearing the proper safety gear can truly be the difference between life and death. As you take to the roads this summer, please make sure that you and your loved ones are obeying Wisconsin’s seatbelt and safety seat regulations.