I Fought the Law and the Law Won: The Contest, Answered

In a post yesterday, I posed the following riddle:

Yesterday, and for much of the past year, I regularly did something that was perfectly legal.

Starting today, if I do the same thing, I am breaking a New York State law.

What is it that I’m doing?

Among the most entertaining answers:

  • Took a charitable deduction for a gift to the U.H.O. [United Homeless Organization] — @davethecfre
  • Did New York finally go and make blogging illegal? — James Timmer
  • Eating real butter at a restaurant? — Adam

But the correct answer came from a reader named Michael, a mere four minutes after the contest was posted:

Are you referring to the Booster Seat Law (to include children under 8, previously 6)?

And a few second later, UnsatisfiedMind chimed in with a slightly more correct answer:

Perhaps you are letting your 7-year-old child ride in the car without an “appropriate child safety restraint system.”

The second answer is slightly more accurate since, under the old state law, children aged out at 7 (not 6), but are now required to ride in a booster seat until they are 8 — unless they are four-feet-nine or weigh more than 100 pounds (in which case they could probably be doing the driving). In this case, we’ll send some schwag to both Michael and UnsatisfiedMind.

My youngest child turned 7 last February, and we tossed our booster seats long ago. But now, until she turns 8 in February, 2010, I am either a lawbreaker or a guy who needs to to buy another booster seat to use for the next few months even though my kid is bigger than she was when she legally stopped riding in a booster nine months ago. When the research I trust tells me there is no safety advantage to riding in a booster seat, what’s a parent supposed to do?

It should be said that New York is hardly an outlier here. As we write in SuperFreakonomics:

Instead of pushing for a better solution to child auto safety, state governments across the United States have been raising the age when kids can graduate from car seats. The European Union has gone even further, requiring most children to stay in booster seats until they are 12.


So, how are they supposed to know that she's 7? Tell the police that she's 8, and there's not much they can do. It's not like they can demand her birth certificate during a traffic stop. Besides, if she looks big enough to be just fine in an adult seatbelt, I'm sure it won't even enter anyone's mind.


stay in a booster seat until age 12!?!? how long are they required to breast feed?


Young adults up until the age of 18 can't vote. I guess that will be the maximum age government will require booster seats for.


If the size of the individual is the true determinant on the safety of the restraint device, why in the world is age part of the equation? It seems like a poor proxy at best.

If my 7 and 9 year olds are both 4'6" and 85 pounds, why should the 7 year old be forced in to a booster seat while his older sister can ride freely using a standard seatbelt? This just seems silly.


12 is pretty extreme.

I am 25 and exactly the same height I was when I turned 13!

I'm no more qualified to ride in a big kids seatbelt now than I was in 6th grade!


Another example of the nanny-state. People can't be trusted to make appropriate choices for themselves (or their children) in terms of safety so the state enacts a (typically heavy-handed or overneeded) law to cover it.

The early commenters are spot-on - how's the cop to know the kid's age? Will carrying the kid's birth certificate now be mandatory? And, shouldn't height/weight be the requirement rather than age? (At least the cops could carry a scale and a measuring tape.)


I knew a mother that did not meet the PA height and weight requirements to ride without a booster. Fortunately for her, she met the age requirement.


I've seen some little old ladies (and a few men) who peek out underneath the top edge of their steering wheel in their Buicks. If PASSENGERS under a height limit are required to use booster seats, shouldn't DRIVERS be held to at least as stringent a standard? I think certain car brands should offer interior seating packages that cater to these smaller, elderly people that help give them more visibility and make them safer drivers.

Robot Mistake

Thank you for reminding us how truly dangerious automobile travel is, no matter what level of safety device is used. (!)


Safety comparisons aside, is it possible the requirement to use booster seats for a longer period will increase the number of children properly buckled in, regardless of the seat configuration?


"But now, until she turns 8 in February, 2010, I am either a lawbreaker or a guy who needs to to buy another booster seat to use for the next few months even though my kid is bigger than she was when she legally stopped riding in a booster nine months ago."

Print out the old law and keep it on hand for show in case you are stopped.

There should have been a grandfather clause in the law change.


"When the research I trust tells me there is no safety advantage to riding in a booster seat, what’s a parent supposed to do?"

I think you're insinuating that the government is not does not necessarily rely on a full research base to come to conclusions! Blasphemy!

I really do wish more scientists were willing to run for office. Yes, the country needs scientists badly, but moreso, we need to both prevent inane laws from being passed, and at the same time, put some trust in our populace to make decisions like this for themselves. We do a literature review, you can decide for yourselves whether your kid wears a seat belt.


Comments about age v. size are missing a subtle point:

A lot of crash survivability depends on covert physical development-- an eight year old has had two more years than a six year old to develop stronger muscles and bones. The extreme example is the need to support a newborn's head.

Physical size is just one part of the equation. It's tough to see whether a child has been spending long hours in the gym, hence the age proxy.

In medicine (I speak as an EMT here), we are constantly reminded that children are not "little adults", in the sense that their body proportions, physiological response to trauma, and even (in the very young) the location of their organs and other bodily structures, are not the same as where those things will be when they hit adulthood.


Compare the 'nanny state' laws for booster seats and car seats to the driver permit and licensing laws.

Imagine the number of lives saved if states increased the min permit age to 17 and unrestricted license age to 18. This is one area that Europe has a better process for introducing new drivers into the system.


Mandatory booster seat until the age of 12 isn't as absurd as forcing a health insurer to cover a "child" of the home until they are 30 years old.


Being buckled in is critical, being in a booster seat is not, it is dependent on actual height and weight.

I was full-grown and biologically able to get pregnant by age 12.

My two nieces were both over 5'10" by age 12 (six inches taller than I ever got). I hope the European law has height exemptions, since I've heard that the Dutch are now among the world's tallest per capita (and that my maternal family ancestry).

Yes, my nieces and I should be buckled in, but NOT in booster seats!

Dr. Manak

I eagerly await Dubners peer-reviewed journal article on his analysis of the efficacy of child saftey seats - and see his criticizm by people who understand physics, statistics and the field of child safety - or does dubner and his collegues think they are so brilliant they can circumvent the process?


Maybe kids should just ride in large SUVs- If the real goal is child safety. They are safer for occupants... Of course if its just government control then lets all shift to some "green", small compact cars and try some new law on the books..... NASCAR crash cages would actually work. Ooops that sounds anti green again...


well usually the Law gives some grace period until it becomes effective, isn't that the case here also? Usually these grace periods are for cover these corner cases...


@Brian (#1) Could there be a liability issue? If a parent lets a 7-year old ride in a booster seat, and that child is injured in an accident (especially after the parent has blogged about how they know it's illegal), could that parent be charged with child neglect?

Not that I would agree with that charge, but just a possible reason to follow the law here...