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New law would bring us rear facing child car seat answers

October 28, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

After years of confusion, Rep. Cox (R-Livonia)’s bill would strengthen MI child car seat law by specifying forward and rear facing child car seat age and weight

Rear facing child car seat

As parents, we want our children to be as safe as possible when we travel. So why does it seem so difficult to get a straight answer on when a parent can move their toddlers from a rear facing child car seat to one that faces frontward? Or whether a rear facing child car seat should be used at all? Our auto law attorneys have received several questions about this, and until now it’s been very hard to give a definitive answer.

The reason it’s been hard for our attorneys to answer it is because Michigan’s child car seat law has never specifically answered that question. So we’ve been left to guess and assume — perhaps even at the expense of our children’s possible safety if they are involved in a car accident — when trying to interpret where a rear facing child car seat fits into the child car seat law (MCL 257.710d(1) and (2) and 257.710e(3)(a) and (b), (5)), which states:

  • Children under 4 must be properly secured in a child restraint system and positioned in a motor vehicle’s rear seat; and
  • Children between age 4 and 8, and under 4 feet 9 inches tall, must be properly secured in a child restraint system.

Where does a rear facing child car seat fit into all of this?

This law is confusing, to say the least. It doesn’t say anything about a rear facing child car seat, only the vehicle’s rear seat — as in, the rear section of the vehicle.

Further, the law doesn’t give guidance on what age and weight a child must be in order to “graduate” to the next child seating level, such as a booster seat, or whether they must be seated in the rear seat area only.

As an auto accident attorney who writes for this Auto Law blog, I’ve had to look in the past to a variety of outside sources to find helpful pointers for readers who ask questions about when or why to use rear facing child car seats.

Proposal addresses rear facing child car seat specifics

We may just get some answers now that the 2017-18 Michigan legislative session has kicked off.

A bill introduced by Rep. Laura Cox (R-Livonia) to the House of Representatives calls for a rear facing child car seat to be used for a child who’s younger than 2 years old or is less than 30 pounds — and to be placed in the rear seat area.

Further, House Bill 4951 states, children would be seated and positioned in the rear seat area as follows:

  • “If the child weighs not less than 30 pounds but less than 50 pounds, or is 2 years of age or older but less than 5 years of age, in a forward-facing child seat.”
  • “If the child is not more than 57 inches tall and weighs 50 pounds or more, or is 5 years of age or older but less than 8 years of age, in a booster seat.”

This new language regarding rear-facing child car seats is not ambiguous by any means. It says exactly how old a child needs to be or how old she needs to weigh for a rear facing child car seat, then what kind of child car seat is required when a different age or weight is reached.

It’s nice to know that 2½ years after the state Senate tried unsuccessfully to get a similar measure to become law, HB 4951 is answering this question finally and giving parents clear guidance.

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