Legislation to protect young children by using rear-facing car seats made it to the finish line during the legislative session that ended in May, only to be vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott early this week.
House Bill 448 by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) would have required children younger than 2 to ride in a rear-facing car seat, unless the child is taller than 40 inches and weighs more than 40 pounds, or had a medical condition preventing him or her from sitting in such a seat.
The Texas Medical Association supported the bill, along with pediatricians, law enforcement groups, and auto safety experts.
“House Bill 448 is an unnecessary invasion of parental rights and an unfortunate example of over-criminalization,” Governor Abbott said in a statement announcing his veto of the bill. “It is not necessary to micromanage the parenting process to such a great extent, much less to criminalize different parenting decisions by Texans.”
In a statement, the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS) said it was disappointed with Governor Abbott’s veto and urged parents to follow the bill’s recommendations.
“While ultimately it is up to parents to do what is best for their children, experience has shown us that sometimes the state government needs to pass laws to promote better buy-in and facilitate the adoption of evidence-based best practices as children progress toward adulthood,” TPS President Ben Raimer, MD, said. “Speed limits, appropriate times to use (and not use) cell phones, immunization requirements, purchase and consumption age limits for alcohol and tobacco products, water safety reminders, and car seat positions are just a few good examples of the states’ roles in promotion of health.”
Under current state law, all children younger than 8 are required to be in an appropriate child safety seat whenever they ride in a passenger vehicle, unless the child is taller than 4 feet, 9 inches.
Law enforcement officials can stop parents specifically to determine if they are complying with current law, and parents can be fined even for a first offense.
HB 448 would have allowed for a warning for a first offense, and would have changed existing law so that parents could not be stopped merely to verify they are complying with the law.
“Therein lies the irony of the veto – Governor Abbott’s reservations about HB 448 being ‘an unfortunate example of over-criminalization’ belies the fact that the bill actually made significant efforts to reduce the likelihood that a parent would be penalized for violating the law,” Dr. Raimer said. “The bill simultaneously would have meaningfully increased the safety of our youngest, most fragile Texans, as study after study demonstrates the effectiveness of rear-facing seats for infants in a collision.”
Rear-facing car seats, which support the head, neck, and spine, are designed to distribute the force of a crash across the shell of a car seat, according to the Automobile Association of America (AAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children younger than 2 are not strong enough to withstand the force of a crash without the extra protection provided by car seats specifically designed for babies and younger children.