Rear facing car seats until 2 in Texas? Governor says nope, vetoes plan

A plan to keep the youngest Texans in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 — which has drawn support from medical experts — has been vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott because he felt the government was overreaching.

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, passed a bill that would have extended how long children stay in rear-facing car seats, a move more than a dozen states have taken to keep children safe.

But over the weekend, the governor said the proposal isn’t necessary because it’s “an unnecessary invasion of parental rights and an unfortunate example of over-criminalization,” Abbott wrote in his veto statement.

Abbott the bill Saturday, one of more than 50 bills he has killed this year.

“It is not necessary to micromanage the parenting process to such a great extent, much less to criminalize different parenting decisions by Texans,” Abbott wrote.

Turner fired back, saying the measure would have made Texas law less confusing and match what is already in place in states ranging from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania.

“Unfortunately, Governor Abbott has chosen to ignore the experts and veto this needed legislation,” Turner said in a statement. “Our car seat laws will continue to be outdated and inherently confusing for parents. Additionally, this bill lessened the penalties on parents — but that common-sense reform also dies thanks to the governor’s veto.”

The bill statement noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its position in 2011 to state that children should remain in rear-facing car safety seats until they are 2. If children weigh more than 40 pounds or are taller than 40 inches, the seat could be turned around.

A new position by the academy posted last year updates its position to say that it recommends children remain in rear-facing car seats “as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.”

“Fortunately, car seat manufacturers have created seats that allow children to remain rear-facing until they weigh 40 pounds or more, which means most children can remain rear-facing past their second birthday,” said Benjamin Hoffman, lead author of the policy statement and chair of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. “It’s best to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.”

The academy notes that when a children ride rear-facing, their spine, head and neck are protected by the shell of the car safety seat, protecting their body.

State law requires children under 8 to be in a car seat, following manufacturer recommendations for height and weight requirements. The law doesn’t mention car safety guidelines for children under 2, but many recommend children stay in rear-facing seats for as long as possible, at least a minimum of one year.

Turner’s bill would have reduced penalties for violations oby stating law enforcers couldn’t pull someone over just for a potential car seat violations. And they couldn’t issue a ticket on the first violation, just a warning. Future violations could generate tickets with fines as high as $250.

Supporters say the bill would have updated the law to reflect recent recommendations, which vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, which means some parents switch their children to front-facing seats too early, according to a House Research Organization report.

Opponents say the bill would criminalize people who didn’t follow the new guidelines. And they believed the law “is unnecessary and unfairly expands the conditions under which a small infraction could be charged as a misdemeanor offense,” the House report states.

The bill, which was endorsed by groups ranging from the medical community to first responders and cities such as Arlington and Grand Prairie, “made clear that we want young Texans to be as safe as possible in the event of a crash,” Turner’s statement said.

“The governor’s veto sends the irresponsible message that it doesn’t matter if a child under age 2 is rear facing,” his statement continued. “It does matter, because it is proven to save young lives.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.