New law requiring rear-facing car seats until the age of 2 goes into effect July 1

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Starting on July 1, a law that made a splash when it was passed last year will make it mandatory for all children who are two years old or younger to be in a rear-facing car seat, or until they meet the minimum weight requirements for a forward facing car seat.

Right now, the current law allows children who meet the weight limit, or are one year old, to be front-facing.

The Harrisonburg Fire Department says this law will keep more children safe from neck and spine injuries in an accident.

Virginia joined nine other states that have adopted similar laws: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Keeping seats rear-facing until the age of 2 was already strongly suggested by AAA, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Centers for Disease Control, and others.

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.

According to Martha Meade, the public and government affairs manager for Virginia’s AAA’s Mid-Atlantic region, the association has lobbied for issues of public safety on the roads for decades.

“This is an important change for Virginia because it is confusing for many folks who don’t know when the the right time is to switch their child to be forward-facing in vehicles,” Meade said. “All the major traffic safety organizations — AAA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Highway Safety Administration and the Academy of Pediatrics — recommend a child stays rear-facing until age 2, or until they've reached the minimum weight and height requirement.”

First violations of the law 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, which is used promote, purchase, and distribute child restraint devices to applicants who need a child restraint device but are unable to afford one.

Once you have the correct car seat, it is important that it is installed correctly.

You can be sure by making an appointment with the fire department.

"The number one problem we see is that the seat is installed too loosely, so making sure it moves less than one inch back and forth," Ariel Rodriguez, Child Passenger Safety Seat Technician said.

Car seats are recalled and updated often, so it is important to have regular checks and make sure you are not recycling old car seats for others to use.

You can properly dispose of the car seats at the fire department too.

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.