AAA: Law requiring child safety seats to remain rear facing until age 2 takes effect July 1
Child safety seats in Virginia will be required, by law, beginning July 1, to remain rear facing until the child is 2 years old or reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device.
The new law, established by House Bill 708 in 2018 and 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. The law had a delayed implementation date to provide residents time to prepare for compliance.
AAA took the lead advocacy role in the effort to strengthen Virginia’s child restraint law for the safety of children in motor vehicles. “AAA was thrilled to see this legislation go into effect as it is a strong step forward in an effort to keep our children safe while traveling in a vehicle,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager – Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic
The Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education (a charitable affiliate with AAA), as well as 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:
- Children are about 75% less likely to die or sustain serious injury in a rear-facing seat. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
- 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.
- The change is recommended by AAA Safe Seats 4 Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Consumer reports, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, , Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Make Safe Happen, and Safe Kids.
A violation of the rear facing requirement 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.