New bill requires children to remain rear facing until age two

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This week, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 708, which would require child safety seats to be rear facing for children until they are two-years-old or reach the car seat’s minimum weight limit for a forward facing seat.

Ariel Rodriguez, Child Safety Seat Specialist for Harrisonburg Fire Department, said a child who is rear-facing is 75% less likely to have a serious injury if they are in a car accident.

As of now, it is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, AAA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Centers for Disease Control, and others to keep children rear-facing until they are two-years-old.

But this bill would it make it the law of the commonwealth, joining nine other states that have adopted similar laws: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

“It’s just exciting that we can protect those children a little bit further and go a little above and beyond and catch up with the states around us in terms of law,” said Rodriguez.

She said children’s legs usually cross, or “frog” back in rear-facing seats, which is perfectly safe, and better if they are in an accident with impact.

The safest place to have a car seat is in the middle seat of a car.

Right now, Virginia law requires any child up to age eight to be “properly secured in a child restraint device,” meeting United States Department of Transportation standards.

But the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education said this new law would be a huge step forward for children’s safety in Virginia.

“Children are safest when kept rear facing in a car seat for as long as possible,” noted Haley Glynn, Traffic Safety Community Educator and Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. “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. 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.

Violating the law would come with a fine of $50 for a first offense. After that, it could be subject to a civil penalty of up to $500, which would be paid into a state fund used to promote, buy, and distribute child restraint devices.

The Harrisonburg Fire Department offers free car seat safety checks. You can set up an appointment by calling 540-432-7703.