CASPER, Wyo. — Existing Wyoming law requires children under 9 years of age to be “properly secured in a child safety restraint system in a seat of the vehicle other than the front seat” but does not require young children to be restrained in a rear-facing car seat.
Rep. Kevin O’Hearn (Natrona County) said during the Wyoming House of Representatives Monday, March 1 floor session that House Bill 23 would require children under two years of age be secured in a rear-facing child safety restraint system.
“This bill is very important not only to the State of Wyoming but also to the United States as more kids are killed or severely injured in vehicle accidents than in any other manner,” O’Hearn said.
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He cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from 2017 which found that the use of such safety restraint systems saved the lives of 325 children under the age of four.
The CDC recommends that children be secured in rear-facing restraint systems from birth until age 2-4. The CDC says that children should be secured in rear-facing car seats “until they reach the maximum weight or height limit” of the seat.
O’Hearn said that free child safety restraint systems are offered by various non-profits in Wyoming and across the country and “most police officers and highway patrol have child restraint rodeos that will show you how to install it and install it for you for free in most cases.”
House Bill 23 would modify Wyoming Statutes 31‑5‑1303(a) and 31‑5‑1304(a) which deal with child safety restraint requirements and penalties for violations.
Under existing statute, children under 9 years old must be in a car seat “in a seat of the vehicle other than the front seat, except if the vehicle is only equipped with one (1) row of seats, or if all safety belts in the rows of seats behind the front seat are in use by other child passengers in the vehicle.”
If all the seats in the back of a vehicle are in use by other children, a child under nine can be placed in a forward facing car seat in the front passenger seat, but rear-facing seats are prohibited “in front of an active airbag.”
First time fines for violating the rules currently stand at $50. House Bill 23 would raise this to $100. Subsequent offenses are $100 fines, but this would be raised to $200 under the proposed legislation. Statue allows people to avoid the first time offense fine if they prove they have acquired a child safety restraint system.
O’Hearn said that the Wyoming Highway Patrol issued 794 first time offense citations and 56 second time offense citations in the last 20 months.
Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly (Albany) asked whether there had been any discussion of requiring rear-facing seats based on weight rather than age.
O’Hearn said that the reason age was proposed is because “necks are not strong enough to support a baby’s head until about the age of 2.”
Rep. Mark Baker (Sweetwater) and Rep. Marshall Burt (Sweetwater) proposed an amendment to House Bill 23 on first reading. Baker explained that the amendment would make second or subsequent violations of the child safety seat requirements a moving violation which could lead to a person having their driver’s license revoked.
Baker said that the “hope is that with a little bit more severe of a penalty, individuals will take notice.”
The amendment was defeated.
The House passed House Bill 23 on first reading (Committee of the Whole). They would need to pass the bill on two further readings before the legislation would move to the Senate for consideration.