01/06/05 — New North Carolina law creates run on child car seats

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New North Carolina law creates run on child car seats

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on January 6, 2005 2:02 PM

A new state law that requires children under age 8 or 80 pounds to ride in car seats has caused a run on the equipment in stores around North Carolina.

Tammy Lewis, department manager for infants at the Wal-Mart Super Center in Goldsboro, said the store ordered 300 seats two weeks ago and ran out Wednesday. They ordered around 100 more and have some in stock.

Before the law passed, the store sold around seven or eight a day, but that number has jumped to 30 or 40 a day, she said. Consumers started coming in for seats around Dec. 15 or 16 when they found out about the new law, which took effect Jan. 1. She said she received an e-mail at home about the law and provided the information to the store manager.

The busiest time is in the morning after the new inventory is put out. She said more seats should come in Friday and Saturday. Some people are buying more than one because they have two children in the same age group. Ms. Lewis has two children, ages 7 and 8, and already purchased one for both of them.

Shari Smith, who works in the infant department at Kmart in Goldsboro, said they are sold out, but have ordered more. She is not sure when they will come in. She said the seats are arriving daily and selling as fast as they come in. People started coming in the last week of December, and they sold 50 or 60 that week. People are still coming in and calling constantly, she added.

A dozen or more stores in the Charlotte region sold out of car seats early this week. A Wal-Mart in Gastonia sold 71 on Tuesday alone.

"They are just flying off the shelves," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Suzanne Haney. "We are getting shipments, but they are selling as fast as they are coming in."

The new law that took effect Jan. 1 aims to protect children who are too large for a car seat but still too small for seat belts. The booster props up the child so a vehicle's seat belt fits properly. Violating the law carries a $25 fine and $100 in court costs as well as two driver's license points.

The old law required children under 4 and less than 40 pounds to ride in child-safety seats.

Donna Houser of Cherryville has been shopping for a booster seat for her 6-year-old daughter since last week, but many stores don't have them in stock.

"They're completely gone," said Lisa Ferguson, a manager at a Target store in Gastonia. "I get about 10 calls a day on them."

The state Highway Patrol has been inundated with questions about the law.

"We are being bombarded with hypotheticals today," said 1st Sgt. E.T. Workman. "It's worse than a snow day."

The most popular and least expensive seat -- a booster with no back -- sold out at many retailers.

"Every time we get them on the floor, they're gone," said Leanne Stewart, an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart in Winston-Salem.

Gov. Mike Easley signed the legislation in August that required the seats.

Authorities say before the law change that when 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds were restrained in an adult seat belt the fit was off. The shoulder belt often ended up lying across the child's neck instead of the breastbone, and in some cases, the shoulder belt was moved behind the child to get it out of the way.

From 2000 to 2002, 43 children in North Carolina between 5 and 8 years old were killed and 200 were injured in car accidents, according to the State Center for Health Statistics.

Only 7 percent were riding in booster seats. About 55 percent were wearing lap or shoulder belts, and 38 percent were unrestrained.

The N.C. Highway Patrol has said that troopers will be strict in enforcing the new law.

"It's too early to tell really what kind of conformity we will have to it," said Highway Patrol Sgt. R.G. Chandler in Elkin.

"They ought to have common sense enough and love and concern for their child to put them in a booster seat, not just to avoid getting a ticket."