Fort Worth

Bill would keep children in rear-facing car seats longer

Jeremiah Salmon of Safe Kids Tarrant County helps Kayla McKeehan of Burleson properly install a car seat and buckle her children in correctly.
Jeremiah Salmon of Safe Kids Tarrant County helps Kayla McKeehan of Burleson properly install a car seat and buckle her children in correctly. Star-Telegram

A proposed law to keep little Texans in a rear-facing car seat another year — until age 2 — is aimed at giving them better protection from devastating injuries.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, filed House Bill 955, requiring children to be in a rear-facing car seat until age 2 unless the child exceeds height and weight limits for the car seat.

The measure would align Texas laws with 2011 car seat safety recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Some manufacturers already make car seats that require children to stay rear facing until age 2.

“Protecting young lives should always be our top priority,” Turner said in a statement. “Updating the law would mirror what pediatricians and other experts have been saying for years — keeping young children rear-facing until at least the age of two is much safer than putting them in a forward-facing car seat.”

The bill was voted out of the House Committee on Transportation with an 8-4 vote. It is expected to head to the House Committee on Calendars, which will decide whether or not to put it on the House calendar for consideration on the floor.

State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, voted against the bill in committee because it is too much of a government overreach, according to his office. While he agrees that rear-facing car seats are safer, he worries that the bill signals an unnecessary infringement on parental rights.

A hearing on the issue was March 19.

Renee Seiver, a Fort Worth mother of three, said many parents don’t realize how vulnerable little ones are when they are placed in a forward-facing seat too soon. She has kept her children in rear-facing car seats well past age 2.

“If the law were to change, then people wouldn’t think it is OK to turn them around just because they are a year old,” Seiver said.

Sharon Evans, a trauma injury prevention/outreach coordinator for Cook Children’s Medical Center, said babies and toddlers would be safer.

“We still have families who hold the babies in the arms and turn them around too fast,” she said, adding that it’s better to wait as long as possible.

“Rear-facing is the safest,” she said.

Parents worry that they can’t see their toddlers in a rear-facing seat and fear that one will suffer leg injuries in a crash, Evans said. In reality, the back of the car seat helps absorb the energy from a forward-facing crash, she said.

“We actually see more leg and arm injuries when they are forward-facing,” she said.

Evans said the aim is also to prevent head and spinal cord injuries.

“Those are devastating, lifelong injuries,” Evans said.

Many times parents don’t know the rules and consider the change to forward-facing a milestone.

“Every parent wants to do the right thing, but many simply aren’t aware that keeping their children rear-facing longer is better,” Turner said. “This measure is already helping to inform parents and others about car seat safety and the need to keep children rear-facing longer.”

Getting some help

Safe Kids Tarrant County, led by Cook Children’s Medical Center, offers information and car seat workshops.

The organization checked 1,315 car seats last year and distributed 862 to families in need, the hospital said.

Sometimes a seat isn’t installed correctly or a child isn’t properly buckled in. Evans has seen seats not being used at all in families with older toddlers.

She said it’s heartbreaking to hear parents say, “I didn’t know” after a child is injured, when a properly installed car seat would have offered greater protection.

Parents need to do more than just obey the law, Evan said, suggesting they research car seats and get recommendations from safety experts and pediatricians.

“We remind parents, ‘The law is the bare minimum,’” she said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

Car seats

In Texas, any child younger than 8 must be secured in a federally approved child car seat or booster while in a car unless the child is taller than 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

Parents are now required to use a rear-facing car seat from birth to a year.

Failure to secure a child in an appropriate car seat can result in a fine up to $25 for the first offense and up to $250 for subsequent offenses.

Under House Bill 955, the fines would remain the same, but the law would require children to be in a rear-facing car seat until age 2 or until height and weight exceed the limits established by the seatmaker.

Sources: Texas Department of Public Safety, House Bill 955

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