Friday, March 5, 2010

What would you do?

Texas carseat law, summarized, requires kids in carseats until they are eight years old. The law changed recently, but even last year, the cut-off age was five.

I was sitting in the carpool line today and the parent ahead of us (us being myself and the two little ones) had a two year old (I'm guessing here, but about that size) jumping all over the car - front seat, back seat, front seat, back seat, mom's lap, smacking the driving wheel, rear view mirror.....

Our elementary school is located on a busy main road, it's not in a neighborhood. And this baby had been leaping around while mom was on the main road, not just while in the car rider line. So I was thinking that not only it is against the letter of the law for the baby to have free reign of the car's interior but it really is dangerous - even a fender bender could cause a major head injury or other serious bodily damage to a child that small. I prefer not to think about what could happen if the car was hit at full speed.

So I thought about it.

And I thought about it.

And I said, screw this, I'm calling the cops. If that baby is ever hurt, I'll have it on my head.

So I did. I was routed through several departments ("no this is not an emergency," "yes, I'll hold," "yes, please transfer me.") and finally got to the right one, being dispatch for the county constable. Shoot, or was it the Sheriff? Whatever.

They said they would send a car out immediately but I told them I'm not sure that would do any good - car rider line only lasts 10 minutes at the most. I had the description of the car and the full plate number and I asked if there was some mechanism to send a letter or other notification to the family as a reminder to comply with carseat laws. I didn't want mom locked away or even fined, just told to use (or obtain) a carseat for the baby by someone of authority that she'd be likely to listen to.

I still felt petty for calling.

They called me back as I was emptying the kids and groceries out of the mommyvan and the carseatless Camry was long gone.

No - they don't have the staff to send a letter or call them. No, there is no program that can deal with that. No, there is not enough funding for that. But they'd drive out to the school where the car left ten minutes before and survey the scene.


Some states have a carseat hotline, I have heard. The parent receives a letter informing them of the carseat laws and letting them know that they need to comply. It really is a simple thing and probably saves lives - certainly money (even state money in the form of uninsured ER visits for those children who are uninsured or underinsured).

I wonder what it would take to implement a program like that here?

What would you have done? Thought "ugh" and then ignored the situation like I admit I've done so many times. Considered calling and then decided it was too much trouble? Or would you have narked on them too?


  1. I think you did the right thing, although I don't call on these cases because the police can never get there in time anyway.

    I dream of a well-funded organization that could do carseat checks and get kids in proper seats. I see so much need, especially in immigrant communities and also for older children. Rarely do I see an infant not in a bucket, but I see unrestrained toddlers and preschoolers shamefully often. I think some people need a dose of horrible reality and need to hear or see what type of injuries can result from improper installation or not using a seat at all. God forbid they see that reality in their own families. :(

    I wish there were carseat clinics all the time, right at Target or Walmart. A lot of people aren't able to get to a fire dept or police station where carseat checks are offered. I'd like to see checkpoints, even. I'm sure some civil libertarians would hate that, but if they're allowed to do checks for drunk drivers, they should be able to take a glance in a vehicle and see if the families need a hand getting a child in a proper seat.

  2. You know that's so true. And I was thinking I have an extra booster at home - if it was a money issue, I would gladly have given it to her. Since they changed the law, I've noticed basically no one complying with it for kids over about 4. I think it would help if the school sent a notice home to k-2nd grade notifying people of the change in law and of the penalties and risks of un/under-restrained kidlets. When the kindergartener that belonged in the car got in, she did actually put on a seatbelt, but she was so little, I'm not sure how much good it would do in a crash - honestly there *could* have been a backless bosster there, but it didn't look like it. Regardless, the baby was jumping all over the place still as they pulled out onto the main road.

  3. I wouldn't have called the police, unless its a 911 call, they're not going to get there fast enough, and really, I want them responding to the priority calls. What I would do however, is tell the school. Usually there is a teacher out there guiding the kids and helping the loading process. I'd give the principal all the car info., description of the kindy kid, and ask that they either have the "carpool directing teacher" mention something to the parent, or even better ask that the school security personnel say something to them. Usually the school has a ISD officer or at least someone in a uniform on staff somewhere. If they know ahead of time to look out for it, maybe that can have them ready to pounce. Either way, someone should remind the parent that they're kid doesn't get to hop around the car waiting to be projected from the vehicle.

  4. I thought of that, but since the teachers loading the kids could clearly see the baby, I figured they wouldn't do anything. The school does have an dedicated officer very close by, though. Hmm.....I need him on speed dial. ;)

  5. I should add that I didn't actually expect they would rush out to the site - I figured they'd blow me off completely to be honest.

  6. I've had to call the police more times than I care to mention. I've left intake at midnight only to have my work follow me home in the form of a DWI. I have NO problem calling the police. I also have no problem telling people to buckle up their kids. I have been know to mention it to someone under the premise that I would hate for them to get a ticket.... or ya know, kill their kid. Since you know there's a good officer there, I would mention it to him and ask him to keep an eye out for it. I would, however, also mention it to the principal. If her teachers are ignoring something like that, they should probably know. Imagine an accident happening right in front of their school and someone finds out that they knew that baby wasn't buckled. insert whatever type of lawsuit a person could imagine....

  7. Ironically, the State of Texas has a hotline to do exactly what you want... But only for vehicles emitting smoke.

    They send out a letter to the owner, no ticket, no fine, just an FYI and some information about the problem and possible fixes.

    I wish they could adapt the form to report other things like unbuckled kids, burned out headlights/taillights, etc.

    You'd think that wouldn't be a big change to their, presumably, automated form letter generator.

    Ah, the government... :(


  8. My city has a carseat violation phone number. I have it on speed dial. I've called it at least five times in the past year or so. It's basically just a voicemail system that prompts you to leave the license plate number of the car, but I usually also tell them the type of violation.

    One it was a newborn - DAYS old - baby who WAS in a carseat.. but the bucket style seat was in the front passenger's seat of the car, sideways, unrestrained. Mom was rocking it to and fro with one hand and driving with the other.

    Another instance was two women with a two year old an an infant maybe 5 or 6 months. The two year old was bouncing around in the back seat, no seatbelt let alone car seat... and the infant was being held in the front by the woman in the passenger's seat.

    I've called for a couple of other instances of toddlers or infant being held by adults in the passenger's seat. Regardless of their situation, it's NOT okay for their kids to be unrestrained. If it was, say, a 4 year old in the back seat with a seatbelt but no car seat... I might not call. But I can't just drive away knowing what could happen to these kids if their parents continue to ignore the safety laws.

    By the way, I don't know how the system works after you call. I assume they first send a warning letter, and maybe a ticket for repeat offenders. I hope it gets more severe with time.


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