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Car seat

Safe Kids Coordinator Jason Kerkman (left) helps Emily Lowe properly buckle a child seat Sept. 17, 2015 at the AAA in Lincoln. 

Journal Star file photo

Sen. Robert Hilkemann made his arguments Thursday for changes to requirements on car restraints for Nebraska kids.

"We are to set the standards and, friends, with today's laws, we are doing them a disservice," he said. "We can do better." 

When children begin using a seat belt before it fits their body properly, at ages 4 to 8, the lap belt during a crash can cause abdominal and spinal fracture injuries, he said. The shoulder belt, if improperly placed behind the back or on the neck, can cause head and neck injuries. 

His bill (LB42) would put babies and toddlers through age 2 in a rear-facing car seat, and kids through age 7 would have to be in a child passenger-restraint system, in the back seat. No sitting in the front seat if seats in the back are not already filled with a child under age 8.

Those youth ages 8 through 17 would also have to wear restraints when riding in a car.

Enforcement remains a secondary offense, meaning a driver or a passenger can receive a citation only after a driver has been pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding or running a stop sign. And the fine of $25 does not change.

"It does raise the bar and gives parents and caregivers a better guideline for safely transporting their children," Hilkemann said. 

Apparently only a few senators weren't all aboard. It took less than an hour for Hilkemann to get a 36-3 vote on advancing the bill. Those opposed were Sens. John Lowe of Kearney, John Murante of Gretna and Steve Erdman of Bayard. 

Current law in Nebraska requires any child up to age 6 to be secured in an approved child safety-restraint device.

Sen. Theresa Thibodeau said protecting young brains in their early development is important. Until 18 months of age, a child still has a soft spot on the top of the head that allows for brain development. 

She supports having children remain in the back seat until age 8 because children's bones are not strong enough to sustain the impact of an airbag until they've gone through puberty. 

"Actually in my house, my children did not get to ride in the front seat until age 12, much to them complaining," she said. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children use a booster seat until they've reached 4-foot-9 and are between age 8 and 12. And children should ride in the rear of a vehicle until they're 13.

Erdman asked Hilkemann if he was saying that parents don't know how to take care of their kids. Riding in a car is dangerous, and maybe an amendment should be attached that kids ought to wear helmets in the car, too, he said. 

"Parents need to be able to make decisions for their own children," Erdman said. "We cannot protect people from everything. ... Sometimes people have to make their own decisions. ... My approach to life is, you make decisions and then the consequences are what they are." 

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said he supported the bill, but he wasn't sure he wanted a 7- or 8-year-old sitting in the back seat. In the front, he could talk to them and monitor what they were doing, especially the ornery ones.  

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist also would like to see updates for seat belts for adults. 

"Did you know that there is no law in the state of Nebraska that requires people in the back seat of a vehicle to wear a seat belt?" he said. "Are you as shocked and appalled as I am?" 

Six times he's tried to get a seat belt bill that addresses that issue out of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and has been unsuccessful, he said. 

"Yep, (and) we're going to raise the speed limit," he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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