Senator says arguments against law requiring rear-facing car seats for kids under 2 ‘not based in fact’

A child car seat
Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, who is also a paramedic, said: “I have seen firsthand what protections child passenger safety seats provide, including rear-facing,." (Araya Diaz | Getty Images)

New Hampshire senators are divided over whether to require rear-facing car seats for children under 2 years old. While some are pushing for a study on the issue before making the requirement law, others say national data on the topic has already clearly proven it to be a necessary, life-saving measure for babies and young toddlers.

Sen. Denise Ricciardi, a Bedford Republican, spoke in favor of amending House Bill 251 so that it would create a study commission to collect information about the issue in New Hampshire. The study would produce a preliminary report by Nov. 1 and a final report the following year. The Senate Transportation Committee voted, 5-0, in favor of amending the bill to include the study commission.

“The committee felt it was best to establish a study commission to review data specific to New Hampshire,” Ricciardi said during Thursday’s hearing.

Sen. Tom Sherman, a Rye Democrat and physician, opposed the study commission. He said that given the small population of New Hampshire, a study of that scale could not be expected to produce statistically significant data. Sherman was in favor of moving ahead with the requirement without further study of the issue.

Sherman pointed to a hearing in which 130 people spoke in favor of requiring rear-facing car seats. Only six spoke in opposition. Sherman recited a long list of organizations that support the requirement, including the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police, the Department of Safety Division of State Police, the New Hampshire Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the New Hampshire Nurses Association, among others.

“Arguments against this were just not based in fact,” Sherman said. Some of those arguments included that rear-facing car seats would lead to increased car sickness among children, that rear-facing car seats take up more room in the car, or that rear-facing car seats are more expensive than their front-facing alternatives.

“Can we wait to see if this applies to New Hampshire? Well, in New Hampshire, Vermont, in small states, the numbers are very low,” Sherman said.

“But I would argue that just one is one too many,” he said. He pointed to a study of 472 injured children in which there were three times as many injuries among children in front-facing car seats compared with those in rear-facing car seats.

Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, a West Lebanon Democrat, also spoke in opposition to the study commission.

“I have seen firsthand what protections child passenger safety seats provide, including rear-facing,” said Prentiss, who also works as a paramedic and has been an emergency medical services provider for more than 30 years.

“We know how this works. Why would we not want to take every option available to us in this great state to protect our smallest children?” she said.

Sen. Regina Birdsell, a Hampstead Republican, supported the study commission because she said more state-specific information was needed.  

“There is no doubt that car seats save lives with children under 2, and there is ample national data that says that, but every time I asked the individuals who came to testify ‘What are New Hampshire’s numbers?’ no one knew,” she said. Birdsell pointed to information she received from the Department of Safety that reported two injuries of children under 2 in rear-facing car seats, and one child of that age who had been injured in a front-facing seat.

“Right now, the data for New Hampshire doesn’t look like we should be mandating this,” she said.

In response, Sherman said: “Do we see a lot of accidents? No. But the major point is that one is too many. If we base our decision on what happens in New Hampshire, we are probably never going to be able to guide policy based on that.”

The Senate voted, 23-0, to move the bill off the consent calendar for this week and push it to next week’s session on May 13 to allow time for further discussion.