Governor signs bill changing car seat laws

Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bill Tuesday on car seat laws that will begin in July 2019. (Source: NBC12)
Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bill Tuesday on car seat laws that will begin in July 2019. (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Tuesday prohibiting child restraint devices, like car seats, from facing forward until the child reaches certain requirements.

The bill proposed by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, states until the child reaches at least two years of age, or until the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer, the child must face the rear.

"We can't prevent all accidents for sure, we can't prevent injuries and fatalities but we can sure as a society do everything we can to make it as safe as possible for our children," Northam said.

"This bill to me made so much sense," Filler-Corn said. "We talk about why are we in public office, we're here to make a difference. We're here to improve lives. Arguably this bill will actually save lives."

Filler-Corn pre-filed the bill in January where it was passed by delegates in a little more than a month. According to the state website showing the bill's history, it had a few amendments before passing in early March.

"I saw this as common-sense legislation that was needed," Filler-Corn added. "In many cases some of the folks I spoke to felt this was already a law."

"We knew it was a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics so we wanted to wait until she was at least two," said Lauren Schmitt about her daughter Poppy.

The Schmitt family recently turned Poppy's car seat around, but had always faced the rear before.

"She now loves sitting forward, she can see more, and we like it too, but it was important to wait," Schmitt said.

That's because of child development under the age of two.

"For the vast majority of children, the head is proportionally bigger than the body and the muscle tone is just not there in the neck and torso to hold that head in a crash," said Martha Meade with AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Check out NBC12's 'Digital Dialogue' on car seat safety:

According to AAA, children are 75% less likely to die or get seriously injured in a rear-facing seat.

That's why H. Bill 708 states any child must face the rear of the car until age two or reach the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing car seat that is labeled by the manufacturer.

"[They] certainly are much safer," Northam said. "Their head control is much better, their necks are protected if the child is facing to the rear."

Virginia now joins nine other states including California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina with similar car seat bills to keep kids safe.

"I'm thrilled that Virginia has joined the ranks and I'm sure you'll see other states as well signing on and passing this legislation," Filler-Corn said.

Northam signed the bill in the West Reading Room of the Patrick Henry Building with Filler-Corn and other supporters in attendance. However, the bill will not go into effect until July 1, 2019.

"I think the delayed implementation date was really important out of respect for parents who are out there who have car seats," Meade said. "Now we just have to get out there and educate the public so people know what to do."

As for other child restraint devices, that part of the law will stay in place. Currently Virginia law requires any child up to age eight to be properly secured in a seat which meets the requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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