Bill aims to keep kids in backseat, for safety

Printed from:

By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE-Youngsters would need to wait a little longer before riding up front, under legislation before the Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

A bill filed by the late Sen. Tom Kennedy would require drivers to seat children under the age of 13 in the back of the car when feasible. Boston Children’s Hospital backs the legislation as does AAA Northeast.

The bill (S 1848) would require that “whenever possible” children under the age of 13 be seated in a rear passenger seat, and would subject the driver to a $25 fine for failure to comply.

“It might not always be possible for children under the age of 13 to ride in the backseat,” Boston Children’s Hospital Director of State Government Relations Kathryn Audette told the committee, noting circumstances when a car is filled with children or the case of a pickup truck.

Before heading to an emergency room shift, Dr. Amanda Stewart, a pediatric emergency medicine fellow, told lawmakers she had seen too many preventable injuries to children in auto accidents. Stewart detailed a case where a two-and-a-half-year-old girl being held in her mother’s arms in the front seat was thrown out an open window and onto a patch of grass in an accident. Stewart said the family’s young boy, who was sitting in the back and the only one buckled in, was the only one in the car who did not receive a serious injury.

Audette cited an American Academy of Pediatrics study that recommends children under 13 ride in the rear seat and said another study is forthcoming that will bolster that recommendation.

Rep. William Straus, House chair of the Transportation Committee, asked Audette to send the committee a copy of the study when it is out.

Current law requires children under the age of 13 to be secured by a child passenger restraint or a properly adjusted seatbelt, while children under the age of 8 and 57-inches tall or shorter must be secured by child passenger restraint.

AAA Northeast Legislative Affairs Director Mary Maguire supported the bill in written testimony, writing that the backseat is 40 percent safer for children under 13, especially the middle seat. Maguire said the bill “could truly make a life-and-death difference for young passengers and the families who care for them.”

The fine for violations of the state’s law around safely securing children in motor vehicles is not a moving violation that can affect insurance surcharges, an issue that came up earlier this year with a new law requiring drivers to use their headlights in the rain. Lawmakers this spring moved to exempt violations of that new statute from insurance surcharges.