Moorhead mom seeks tougher restraint laws
Dixie Duncan sat in front of the Senate Transportation Committee, with daughter Brynn in a wheelchair at her side, and paused to regain her composure.
"Pass this law for Brynn," the Moorhead woman pleaded.
Committee members obeyed, unanimously approving a bill requiring children up to 8 years old and 4 feet 9 inches tall to use proper child restraint systems such as booster seats. Current law requires such restraints for children younger than 4.
Duncan said her daughter, now 8, suffered severe spinal cord injuries in an Aug. 18, 2008, Fergus Falls accident. The girl was in a grandmother's vehicle and not using a child restraint when the grandmother passed out and the vehicle hit a tree.
The grandmother, Linda Duncan of Ottertail, said she feels "horrendous guilt," something she hopes others can avoid.
She wishes she would have had a restraint for her granddaughter.
"Probably the two saddest words we say are 'if only,' " she told committee members. "Don't let other people say 'if only.' "
The accident occurred after the girl was transferred from her parents' minivan, which had adequate child restraints, to her grandmother's vehicle, which did not have child restraints.
Dixie Duncan said she thought about making a quick trip to buy a child's seat, but decided the girl would be fine.
"The booster seat would have prevented her injury," Duncan said.
"If it was law, we would have made sure there was a booster present at all times," she added.
Brynn is confined to a wheelchair after a long hospital stay.
It may have been an inconvenience to buy that booster seat on Aug. 18, but nothing compared to now, Duncan said, when Brynn needs extensive care and cannot run like her friends.
Duncan, who has worked on deaf-related issues in North Dakota, is willing to lobby lawmakers to make children safer. "If it can prevent other kids and families from going through this, even just one, it is helpful."
Committee Chairman Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said the bill has a better chance this year than in the past, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty and others opposed it. It faces several other Senate committee votes and others in the House.
"If people like this come forth and testify, I think it is a slam-dunk," Murphy said.