Tennessee lawmakers OK longer car seat requirements

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE/AP) – Toddlers would have to ride in rear-facing car seats for an additional year under a bill passed by both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville said the measure brings the state’s car seat laws up to date with the recommendations of physicians and auto manufacturers.

Current law requires rear-facing car seats until age 1; forward-facing car seats until age 3; and booster seats until age 8.

The bill would change those rules to require rear-facing seats until age 2; forward-facing car seats until age 5; and booster seats until children turn 12 or reach a height of 4-foot-9.

The Senate passed the bill on a 32-0 vote on Monday, while the House vote was 68-19. It now heads to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Lawmakers say the new rule will bring Tennessee’s booster seat policy more in line with other states.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital says more than 1,000 infants and toddlers die, nationwide, every year simply because their car seat wasn’t fitted perfectly.

Currently the laws in Tennessee are a little different. The Gallagher family from Fountain City say they’re hoping to see something on the books. “I think they definitely should pass or change it,” said mom Heather Gallagher.

Injury Prevention Coordinator at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Andrew Scruggs, said he believes the bill better protects children by reducing the likelihood of a fatality in the event of a car crash.

It also redefines how long a toddler should stay in a rear-facing car seat. Scruggs explains why, “[It] cocoons the child in the event of an accident. That keeps debris, head and neck movements all down to a minimum and keeps the pressure off the bones of the child.”

Kids three to five year sold would have to be in harness, forward-facing car seats because each belt crosses a bone for more protection.

When it comes to booster seats, there’s a reason why kids will have to use them as well. “Picks the child up off the seat and puts them up in the correct position where that belt is over the collar bone and over their hip bones,” said Scruggs.

No child is the same size, we’re told there’s a provision in the legislation that if they need to graduate to the next seat it’s okay.

“It always has manufacturer’s recommendations and when you’re looking at the law, this is the provision of that law is that it has to be within the child’s seats recommendations,” added Scruggs.

The Gallaghers always weight the what if’s and having their car seats checked by professionals. “My mother in law watches him so we checked her car seats to make sure they were installed properly. What their limits were and then we have two cars so both of our car seats to make sure that he was as safe as possible,” said Gallagher.

If your child sits in a rear-facing car seat it’s suggested to have them sit cross-legged to avoid possible injuries. In case you don’t know how to tell if a car seat properly fits your child, the best advice according to experts, is to have a certified safety technician take a look and help make the proper adjustments. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital hosts inspections throughout the month. To find the next one, you can visit their website.

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