A new Louisiana law that takes effect in August is intended to keep infants and toddlers in rear-facing seats for a longer period of time and require that all children ride in the back seats of vehicles until they are teenagers.

The current law, initially passed in 1984 and updated in 2009, is based on a simple timeline tied to the child's age and weight. The new law considers the height and weight limits of car seats and whether a child can fit into a vehicle's seat properly.

"This law will save children's lives," said Lisa Freeman, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. “It’s an enormous leap in embracing a safety culture in Louisiana."

The new law, based on standards adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, takes effect Aug. 1 and is intended to put children in car seats designed for individual weights and heights. In general, the guidelines require that:

  • Children under 2 must ride in rear-facing child safety seats;
  • Children ages 2-4 must ride in a forward-facing seat with an internal harness if they have outgrown a rear-facing seat;
  • Children ages 4-9 must ride in a booster seat secured with a lap/shoulder belt; and
  • Children ages 9-12 can ride without a booster seat if their knees bend over the front edge of the seat, their back is against the seat back and the seat belt crosses their chest and not their neck.

"It keeps children in the most protected categories for as long as possible," said Lt. Nick Manale, a State Police spokesman.

Over the past three years, 110 children and youth, from infancy to age 14, have died in vehicle crashes in Louisiana, said Dr. Joseph Kanter of the state Department of Health.

"I can tell you, as an emergency room physician, I have grieved with families" in those circumstances, said Kanter, administrator and medical director for the health department's Region 1, based in New Orleans.

"We always want to know if there was anything that could have been done that could have helped prevent this death," he said. 

The new law is a big step in that direction, Kanter said.

But, he added, "A law itself does not save lives. What saves lives will be behavior change."

Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.