Topeka Seven rolling billboards promoting booster seats for young children received a send-off Tuesday from the Statehouse, amid pleas from state officials for tougher seat belt and child passenger safety laws.
Seven public resources officers with the Kansas Highway Patrol will tow the small, brightly painted trailers behind their cars all over the state to push booster-seat use by children between 4 and 8 years old. Each trailer will contain educational materials and enough equipment to set up a booster seat check lane.
At dedication ceremony Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said the trailers will help get the message out to parents and their children that booster seats and seat belts save lives.
"Kansas has a low seat-belt usage rate for adults, and seat-belt usage for children is even lower than for adults," Miller said. "Only 45 percent of the children in our state are properly buckled up."
State law requires all children under 4 to ride in special safety seats, and children between 4 and 13 to wear seat belts. Senators have approved a bill that would require children ages 4 through 7 to ride in special booster seats if they weigh less than 80 pounds or are 4-foot-9 or shorter, but the House has balked at such restrictions.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said the message painted on the trailers, including a picture of a 5-year-old Topeka girl strapped into a booster seat, might get children to buckle up even if their parents don't -- and even if it's not required under state law.
"For whatever reason, the Legislature has been very reluctant to impose new restrictions and regulations, to have the nonuse of seat belts be a primary infraction," Sebelius said.
Under Kansas law, a motorist must be stopped for another infraction -- such as speeding -- before he or she can be cited for violating the seat belt law.
"We do have a terrible record and a terrible rate (of seat-belt use)," Sebelius said. "The more information we can get out, the more aware we can make people about how dangerous the situation really is."