The Nebraska Legislature debated a bill Thursday, March 8 to change the age of car seat restrictions for children and voted to send it on to the second round of debate.
LB 42, introduced by Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha, would require children to remain in a car seat or booster seat until age 8.
The current law only requires a child sit in a booster seat until age 6.
Hilkemann said children who are only wearing a seat belt are three times as likely to have an abdominal injury from a car accident when the seat belt doesn’t fit properly.
“Seat belts in cars are designed for the safety of 165-pound male adults. Now that is much bigger than the average 6- to 8-year-old,” Hilkemann said.
The bill would also require a child be seated in a rear-facing car seat until age 2 unless they outgrow the manufacturer suggested weight and height limits for the seat.
Hilkemann said nine states have adopted similar regulations based on recommendations from the American Association of Pediatrics.
The bill also would require an 8-year-old child to be seated in the back seat of a vehicle unless the seats are already occupied by younger children or if the seats are not equipped with a seat belt.
Hilkemann said children are 40 percent safer riding in the backseat of a vehicle.
Violations of the law would be a secondary offense with a $25 fine.
Hilkemann said the last time the Legislature updated the law for child safety in vehicles was in 2002.
“We are to set the standards, and friends, with today’s standards we are doing [the public] a disservice,” Hilkemann said. “We can do better.”
Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha spoke in favor of the bill, noting that 90 percent of a child’s brain development happens before age 5.
“Protecting those brains in the earliest development is very important so that a child does not suffer a brain or spinal cord injury,” Thibodeau said.
Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said he was still not convinced the bill was necessary.
Erdman said that riding in a car is a dangerous thing and parents need to be able to make decisions to keep their children safe.
“There’s all kinds of things we can try to do to force people to protect themselves,” Erdman said. “Sometimes people have to make their own decisions.”
Erdman said the bill seems to be more government regulation, which he is against.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said he supported the bill but had one concern.
Groene said he wouldn’t like having a 7-year-old in the back where he couldn’t see what they were doing.
His grandson helps him on the farm and often jumps out of the car to help open gates. Groene said this would worry him having his grandson jump out of the backseat where he couldn’t see him, especially around cattle.
Lawmakers approved the bill 36-3, sending it to the next round of consideration.