New law requiring child safety seats to remain rear facing until two years old passes

lawThe Virginia General Assembly passed  House Bill 708, sponsored by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D/District 41) which would change the commonwealth’s law to require that child safety seats remain rear facing until the age of two, or the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device. The bill is now on its way to Governor Northam’s office for his signature. If signed, the new law would become effective July 1, 2019.

AAA has been a leader in the effort to strengthen Virginia’s child restraint law for the safety of children in motor vehicles. “Virginia lawmakers have voted positively on behalf of the children who are riding in motor vehicles and who deserve to have every protection possible if they are in a crash,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager – Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “AAA urges Governor Northam to sign the bill and make Virginia the tenth state to adopt regulations that are known to improve safety for child passengers.” Nine states already mandate the measure by law: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

The change, championed by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, will bring Virginia requirements in line with the safety recommendations of many national wide safety organizations including; AAA, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Centers for Disease Control, and others. “HB 708 is a safety bill that seeks to protect our most vulnerable Virginians: our children and grandchildren. I am proud to say Virginia has enacted common sense requirements that will give the youngest and smallest children the extra protection needed when riding in a car. This is a long overdue requirement that will save lives. I was pleased to work with AAA and so many other stakeholders to ensure that our most precious passengers remain safe while riding in cars, and I appreciate the broad bipartisan support from my colleagues to pass this bill,” said Delegate Filler-Corn.

Currently, Virginia law requires that any child, up to age eight is properly secured in a child restraint device which meets the standards adopted by the United States Department of Transportation. It does not, however specify how long the child passenger safety seat must remain rear facing.

The new law, according to the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education (a charitable affiliate with AAA), is a huge step forward and will send a strong message to parents who can be confused by the multitude of car seat options available on the market. The Foundation and many car seat manufacturers recommend keeping children rear facing at least until two years of age or even longer depending on the child’s size. “Children are safest when kept rear facing in a car seat for as long as possible.  Instead of focusing on the minimum weight limit to face forward, consider keeping your child rear facing until they reach the maximum weight limit of a convertible car seat- which has a higher rear-facing weight and height limit than an infant seat,” noted Haley Glynn, Traffic Safety Community Educator and Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. “Convertible seats transition a child from rear facing to forward facing and can typically carry a child from birth to the booster stage.”

Exceptions to the requirement, under the current law, can be made if a doctor determines that the use of a child restraint system is impractical for size, physical unfitness or other medical reasons. Those transporting a child who has been granted this exemption must carry a signed written statement from a physician at all times.

AAA cites the following as support for the new law:

  • Rear-facing seats disperse the crash force more evenly across the back of the seat and the child’s body and limit the motion of the head, reducing the potential of neck injury. Safe Kids
  • Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (2011 policy statement), young children’ bones, ligaments and joints are still developing which place them at an increased risk of head and spinal cord injury. Rear-facing seats can reduce this risk by supporting the head and preventing the relatively large head from moving independently from the proportionately smaller neck.
  • Nearly all convertible child safety seats on the market in 2017 (73 out of 77) could accommodate children up to 40 pounds or more when used rear-facing, a weight that exceeds the 95th percentile for children at 2 years of age.

A violation of the rear facing requirement, if signed by the governor, will be the same as existing penalties. First violations are subject to a civil penalty of $50 and second or subsequent offenses on different dates are subject to a civil penalty of up to $500 All civil penalties collected for violations are paid into the Child Restraint Device Special Fund (§ 46.2-1097), which is used promote, purchase, and distribute child restraint devices to applicants who need a child restraint device but are unable to afford one.

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