Re-examining Mississippi’s Child Safety Restraint Laws

Earlier this year, a 21 month old toddler was killed in a car accident in Vicksburg.  While any child death is tragic, what makes little Brooklyn Weimer’s death so devastating is the fact that it was entirely preventable.   At the time of the accident, Brooklyn was not restrained in a car seat.  According to first responders, had Brooklyn been properly restrained in an infant seat, she would have survived the accident.

Under Mississippi law, all children under the age of four must be restrained in a child restraint device which meets federal safety standards.  The law goes on to state, however, that a failure to secure one’s child in accordance with state law will not be viewed as contributory or comparative negligence.  The fine for failing to utilize a child safety restraint device is $25.  City governments are additionally permitted to assess their own fees.  With both city and state fees assessed, Brooklyn’s mother, Monique Weimer, will face a total fine of $139 for her failure to restrain her daughter.

Gabe Smith, a Meridian paramedic and volunteer fire fighter, stated he is no longer surprised when he encounters car accidents involving unrestrained children.  When he gets word a child has been involved in an accident, he almost expects that the child was not in a car seat.  Smith states that many parents use the excuse that they cannot afford a car seat to explain their failure to comply with the law.

Smith’s anecdotal evidence concerning the frequency with which Mississippi residents fail to use proper child safety restraint devices seems to be statistically accurate.   Mississippi’s childhood automobile accident fatality rate is 1.6 times greater than the national average.  In 2005 alone, 112 children under the age of 13 were killed in motor vehicle accidents in our state.  Shockingly, a 2006 study found that 95% of Mississippi’s children were improperly restrained.

Automobile accidents are the number one cause of death of children between the ages of one and 12.  In 2011, 650 children under the age of 13 were killed in motor vehicle accidents.  Of the 650 children killed, 200 were unrestrained and the remaining deaths resulted from improper use of a restraint, including a car seat or safety belt.  While child safety restraints do not eliminate the risk of injury, they drastically decrease it.  The proper use of safety restraints reduces the risk of death in infants by over 71% and up to 59% in children between the ages of one and four.

Currently, national guidelines call for infants to be restrained in rear facing car seats up until the child attains the age of two and weighs 20 pounds.  After this time, the toddler may be restrained in a convertible car seat facing forward.  This seat should have a five point harness.  The child will remain in this seat until he or she is at least four years old and 40 pounds.  The final stage of child restraints is a booster seat, which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children use until the age of eight.

Many states have child safety restraint laws that closely mirror the national recommendations and inflict harsh fines upon violators.  Mississippi’s child restraint laws, on the other hand, express no preference for rear or forward facing seats and impose a mere $25 fine.  Some lawmakers have called for reform of Mississippi’s child restraint laws, stating that fines need to be increased for the laws to have more of a deterring effect.  Thus far, efforts for reform do not appear to have gained much traction.

At the Giddens Law Firm, we believe the safety of Mississippi’s children should be a top priority.  If you have any questions about Mississippi’s child safety restraint laws, or would like to learn more about your legal options, call us today at 601-355-2022.  We offer a free initial consultation and represent clients in a wide array of personal injury and accident matters.