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Senator James Beach addresses the Legislature.

TRENTON — A bill sponsored by Senator James Beach that would modernize the state’s child seat belt laws to help ensure the safety of all children was approved today by the Senate, sending it to the governor’s desk.

Under current law, all children under eight years of age and weighing less than 80 pounds must be secured in a passenger restraint system or a booster seat. The bill (S2026) would strengthen the law by applying modern-day Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children safety system standards (LATCH). The changes are based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatricians and the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

“The state’s current seat belt laws regarding young children are outdated and antiquated,” said Senator Beach, D-Camden, and Burlington. “Leading safety organizations have revised their car seat safety standards to help protect our kids as they ride in motor vehicles, particularly for very young children who need the extra support to their head,  neck and spine. This bill will bring our laws into the 21st Century by applying modern standards endorsed by pediatricians that have proven to be safe and effective.”

Under the legislation:

  • Children under the age of two who weigh less than 30 pounds must be facing the rear of the vehicle and secured in a five-point harness seat.
  • Children between the age of two and four and who weigh between 30 and 40 pounds must be in a five-point harness seat, facing either front or back based on their size and weight.
  • Children between the age of four and eight who are less than 57 inches in height must be secured in a five-point harness seat or placed in a booster seat.

The bill requires the Division of Highway Traffic Safety in the Department of Law and Public Safety to print and distribute materials advising the public of the changes in the law. The bill also strengthens the financial penalties and removes a provision that grandfathered in non-compliant car seats.

According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children age 4 and older. And for every child who dies in an automobile accident, roughly 18 children are hospitalized and 400 injured seriously enough to require medical treatment.

The bill was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 77-0. The Senate approved it 39-0. It would take effect on the first day of the fourth month next following enactment.