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Child safety experts say a new law in South Carolina matches the longtime pediatrician recommendations for child passenger safety.

"For the longest time, we have just been so behind the times when it came to the laws about child passenger safety," said Lee Penny, Manager of Safe Kids Upstate. "The evidence has been out for a long time and, unfortunately, our law was just outdated."

A child passenger restraint bill, signed into law last week, makes several changes to the existing rules for child passengers, most notably how long they should ride in rear-facing car seats, when they can graduate from a booster seat.

According to the new law, children under 2-years-of-age "must be properly secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system in a rear passenger seat of the vehicle until the child exceeds the height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the child passenger restraint system being used." The change makes South Carolina one of just five states to require children to remain in rear-facing seats until age 2.

Penny said the rule matches what American Academy of Pediatrics has been recommending for years because rear-facing car seats can offer more head, neck and spine support in an accident.

"In watching the crash test videos, it's amazing to see how much safer children are when rear-facing," said Penny, adding that statistically they're about five times safer than forward-facing car seats.

A second big change is the recommendation that children under 8 years of age or shorter than 57 inches should be restrained in a belt-positioning booster seat.

Even if a child reaches the age requirement, Penny recommends making sure children fit safely in the seatbelt — meaning the seatbelt is square on their shoulder, snug on their hips and their knees fold over the front of the seat — before letting them graduate from the booster seat. 

The new law also changes the age at which children are legally allowed to ride in the front seat of a vehicle to 8. It was previously 6.

Understanding the law and best practices can save lives, according to Penny.

"I don't think people realize how dangerous South Carolina roads are, unfortunately. We lose a child every week in South Carolina due to preventable injury from a motor vehicle collision."

Safe Kids Upstate estimates at least 80-percent of all car seats in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee Counties are not installed or used correctly, putting lives at risk. The non-profit organization offers free car seat inspections at nine locations across the Upstate. Appointments can be scheduled by phone or online.

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