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NJ Raises Mandatory Age for Kids to Sit in Safer Rear-Facing Car Seats

Requirement now extends to 2-year-olds as state becomes first in nation to follow pediatricians’ advice

car seat

For parents of 1-year-old children, glancing at their child in the back seat can feel reassuring -- but it shouldn’t, since children that age are actually safer if parents can’t see them. That’s because kids that age are safer in rear-facing car seats, which babies younger than 1 have been required to use for more than a decade.

Under a state law that took effect this month, children must stay in rear-facing seats until their second birthday..

State government and local law-enforcement and child-safety organizations have been publicizing the law throughout the summer, but many parents are still learning about the new rules – which carry a fine of up to $75 for a violation.

New Jersey was the first state in the country to require 1-year-olds who weigh less than 30 pounds to sit in rear-facing seats. That was based on a 2011 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

An earlier study found that children under 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are in a rear-facing seat.

In addition to raising the age for use of rear-facing seats, the new state law also requires that children under age 4 and weighing less than 40 pounds use rear-facing seats until they reach the manufacturer’s upper weight limit for the seat. Those children would then be required to sit in a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness.

Children under age 8 and less than 4 feet 9 inches tall would also be required to use a rear-facing seat or a forward-facing, five-point harness seat until they reach each seat’s upper size limits. When they exceed these limits, they would be required to sit in a booster seat until they reach 4 feet 9 inches.

Diana Starace, coordinator for the injury prevention program at Safe Kids Middlesex County, recently met with parents at an event intended to check the safety of their car seats.

“We actually turned a couple of kids right back around,” Starace said. “As long as we explained why rear-facing is so important and much safer for their child in the event of a crash, we had no resistance” from parents.

Starace said she’s been getting a lot of calls from parents about the change.

“They want to be able to see their child’s face,” Starace said, but they are very amenable to making the change once they hear about the safety benefits. Her program is based at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

Starace noted that New Jersey became a national leader in car-seat safetyin 2001, when it last revised its laws. She said many states still haven’t enacted laws equal to what New Jersey had 14 years ago.

She praised the Legislature for passing the bill, which Gov. Chris Christie signed in May.

“It was nice to see they passed legislation that was supporting best practice,” Starace said, adding that her program had been advising parents to follow an approach similar to the new law since the pediatricians’ recommendations were released in 2011.

State Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky said in a statement that, “for the most part, the law is enforced during routine patrols throughout the course of the daily shiftsIn some cases, law enforcement agencies use checkpoints for enforcement, while others may use dedicated roving patrols for child seat enforcement,” he said.

Poedubicky said the state doesn’t have any information on the number of violations since the law went into effect on Sept. 1.

The division produced a brochure explaining the new law. It has been distributed to state and local agencies throughout the state.

The state also maintains a list of of local child safety seat events.

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