In the event of a crash, a rear-facing car seat "acts like a turtle shell" to reduce impact and prevent potential injury to infant and toddler passengers, a specialist with Boston Children's Hospital told Massachusetts legislators.
"At Children's, I see the impact car-seat direction and placement has on kids' safety on a daily basis," Barbara DiGirolamo, a prevention specialist with the hospital, told the Massachusetts Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
She was speaking last week in support of a bill filed by Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, that would toughen up the law.
"The law that is currently written is not strong enough to keep our kids safe," she said. "Why is a rear-facing car seat so critical? Because it protects the whole head, neck and spine of a child, absorbing the majority of the crash-forces the body would sustain."
Current law mandates that children younger than age 8 must "be fastened and secured by a child passenger restraint" unless they're more than 57 inches tall. Finegold's bill would add a new requirement: rear-facing seats for children under age 2 or weighing less than 30 pounds.
Diana Imondi of AAA Northeast, who testified alongside DiGirolamo, said the bill would not force parents to purchase new or different car seats, but would clarify how the seats should be installed.
Violators of the current law can be subject to a penalty of up to $25. Imondi said many police officers instead will issue a warning and help parents install a car seat correctly.
Finegold said 13 states and Washington, D.C., have already adopted laws that require children under age 2 to ride-rear facing and called it a "really important" safety measure.
Imondi said infants and toddlers can sustain significant neck and spinal trauma in a crash if they're facing the front of the car. She said children in their second year of life are five times less likely to die in a crash if they're restrained rear-facing, as compared to those riding-front facing.
"The injury that we're asking you to protect young children against is something called internal decapitation, and most children do not survive that injury," she said.
Committee co-chair Sen. Michael Moore, a father of two, said he "would have been panicked" not being able to see his children's faces riding in the car with them when they were younger. He asked supporters if the bill if there were any issues associated with such parental concerns.
Imondi said that question comes up a lot, but data and research support the safety benefits of rear-facing seats.
"We have to put them to bed at night, so we don't see them for X amount of hours," she said.