By Sarah Zimmerman
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate endorsed a measure Tuesday tightening car seat regulations in an effort the sponsor said will better protect children in the event of a collision.
The Senate Public Health Committee voted 7-0 to require children 2 and younger to sit in rear-facing car seats while riding the backseat a vehicle. Children under the age limit are exempt if they weigh 40 pounds or more or if they are 40 inches or taller.
The measure would amend the 1983 Child Passenger Protection Act, which currently states parents are only responsible for providing “an approved child safety seat” to children under eight.
Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat, said the existing law is too vague.
“This bill codifies what the pediatric association has recommended,” said Hastings, who is also father to a 2-year-old. “It’s also an opportunity to educate our families that are having newborns on the right way to take care of their child. Accidents do happen and we don’t want our kids to get hurt.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents to keep children in rear-facing car seats until age 2, unless they meet or surpass the maximum height and weight requirements. The seats are designed absorb and distribute the force of a collision across the entire body, better protecting a child’s head, neck and spine.
Dr. Eddie Pont, legislative chair of the academy’s Illinois chapter, said that rear-facing car seats reduce risk of injury by 71 percent. He noted many parents switch their children to forward-facing car seats too early and that this measure “reflects what the current science supports.”
“The skeleton of a child is less mature and is best supported by a rear-facing car seat,” he said. “The more vulnerable parts of the body are shielded from the energy of the collision.”
Democratic and Republican senators both took issue with the fact first-time violators would be hit with a $75 dollar fine, saying too many parents would be punished for a law they weren’t informed about. Hastings said the fine would be waived if parents proved to a court that they completed an educational child safety course.
“The primary goal is to make sure that kids are safe — it’s not to penalize people,” said Hastings.
Senate committee members moved the bill forward under the agreement Hastings change the first-violation offense from a fine to a warning. They also asked for more information on public educational efforts and if it’s possible to provide free or subsidized car seats to parents in need.
Nine states require rear-facing car seats until age 2, including California, New York, South Carolina and Oklahoma. Some states, such as Texas, provide free car seats to low-income families that attend a class on child passenger safety.