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When he's cruising in the back seat of his mommy's black BMW, the last thing 6-year-old Miguel Lopez wants is to be seen in a booster seat.

"I'm not a baby anymore," Lopez said Monday outside Santa Rosa's Doyle Park Elementary School.

Unfortunately for Lopez, a new law that was sponsored by a North Coast lawmaker and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown means he likely will have to use a booster seat for two more years.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires kids to remain in booster seats until they are 8-years-old, or until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.

Currently, kids legally can avoid booster seats when they turn 6 or reach 60 pounds.

Parents who are caught violating the law could be hit with a fine of nearly $500 and have a point deducted from their driving record.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Noreen Evans, D—Santa Rosa, who was out of the country Monday and unavailable for comment, according to her staff.

In a press release, Evans said the law will save lives and prevent injuries. She also suggested that the regulations will not be a burden on parents, stating that they "merely" will require parents to "keep their children in their existing seats two years longer."

Several parents and school administrators contacted Monday had mixed reactions. None had heard about the new law.

Estela Cuenca, Miguel's mother, said she "probably" will comply with the law, despite giving in recently to her son's pleas to be free of the booster seat, which on Monday was stashed in the trunk of Cuenca's car.

"If it weren't the law, I probably wouldn't care," Cuenca said. "I don't see booster seats as much of a help."

But Alfredo Bitancor said he was in favor of the new law as he buckled his 7-year-old daughter, Carmel Marie, into a car seat that can be converted into a booster.

"Sometimes, kids really want to go away from the booster seat, but it's parents' call to enforce the regulations," Bitancor said.

Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death and traumatic brain injury for children between the ages of 4 and 8, according to Sonja Atkins, coordinator of Safe Kids Sacramento, which backed Evans' bill.

Atkins cited data from the California Department of Public Health showing that 113 children between the ages of 6 and 7 died in motor vehicle crashes from 2000 to 2009. Also, 414 suffered serious brain injuries.

Atkins said booster seats have been shown to decrease the risk of injury and death by 60 percent.

"Ultimately, this saves children's lives. That's why it's so important," she said.

The problem with seat belts, Atkins said, is that they don't fit well on most children under 8. She said the lap belt portion often rides up too high on a child's stomach and the shoulder strap is often too near a child's neck or face.

Booster seats help correct those problems by lifting a child higher so that the belt straps align with bones that can better withstand the force of a collision, such as the pelvis and clavicle, Atkins said.

She said more than 30 states already have enhanced booster seat requirements, and that two states, Wyoming and Tennessee, require kids up to age 9 to use the seats.

Getting parents in California accustomed to the idea probably will take some time and effort, however.

At McDowell Elementary School in Petaluma, Principal Maureen Rudder said Monday that she hardly notices any parents other than those of the youngest kids using booster seats when they drop off or pick up their children.

She predicted that the new law will affect every one of the 300 students who attend the school and their families, as none of the students meet the age or height requirements. The school serves kids in grades kindergarten through 3rd grade.

About 90 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for free or reduced lunches, a reflection of household incomes. Rudder said requiring parents to purchase a booster seat to comply with the law could be an added burden on them financially, as could fines if they are caught violating the regulations.

Rudder said "the law goes too far."

Kaesa Enemark, principal at Doyle Park, said the law will affect her personally. She has two boys — ages 5 and 7 — who don't meet the requirements for giving up booster seats.

She said she already has a challenging time keeping her oldest in a booster seat, which she said is made of hard plastic and is uncomfortable for him

She said the law also could make it a challenge for schools that rely on parents to drive kids on field trips. Doyle uses buses.

"That's going to be kind of a pain, if you will."

Atkins countered that many parents already have car seats that convert into boosters, in which case there is no additional cost. New booster seats start at around $15, and there are programs that offer free or low-cost seats to parents who qualify.

But getting a booster seat is only half the battle.

CHP Officer Jon Sloat said about 75 percent of car seats inspected by the agency are not installed correctly. He said parents can have theirs checked at the CHP's Rohnert Park office.

"If it's not in correctly, it does no good," Sloat said.

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