Caroline Silva said she wasn't aware a law took effect Friday that children under the age of 2 must travel in rear-facing car seats. Nonetheless, she said she'd been doing that for her infant son Maddox because it made good sense.
"We took a CPR class before he was born, and they recommended it," said Silva, 33, of Port Washington, as she and her husband, Marvin, placed their 8-month-old boy in their car Friday. "It's much safer."
Unfortunately, car safety advocates worry that too few parents know about the new law, and they're spreading the word hoping it can save lives and prevent possibly lifelong injuries to children.
"This is to address the vulnerability of children at that age," said Robert Sinclair, spokesman for AAA Northeast, during a news conference Friday at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola. "A child's head, neck and spine are weaker at that age. Even a heavy braking event can lead to severe injury."
The new law requires drivers to keep infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 2 years old or reach the maximum height and weight for the seat being used.
Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death for children, advocates said. More than 4,000 children under the age of 4 were injured or killed in car crashes in 2017-2018 in New York State, according to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research.
Young children's heads are disproportionately large and heavy compared to their bodies, noted Dr. D'Andrea Joseph, NYU Winthrop's chief of trauma and acute care surgery. If a child is facing front in a crash, the momentum can rapidly thrust their head forward, damaging their neck and spine, she said.
"Rear-facing seats are safer," she said. "They help diminish the back-and-forth motion of the child's head."
The law was passed in 2017 and given a period of time for people to become familiar with it, Sinclair said.
"The warning period is over," said Sinclair, offering some advice to parents who haven't heeded the law. "They're coming to get you."
Violators are subject to a fine of $150 (plus various local fees), but if they show they are using the seat properly before their court date, the fine can be dropped, Sinclair said.
Some parents prefer front-facing car seats so they can keep an eye on their baby, but child safety advocates say the safety benefits of rear-facing seats make them better.
Still, many parents install the seats incorrectly, said Shani Jarvis, a certified child passenger safety technician for AAA Northeast. She recommended parents have the seat installed by a certified technician, noting they can often be found at local police and fire departments.
"Often, the straps are not tight enough, or they're not height or weight appropriate," she said. In wintertime, parents should remove a child's heavy coat before buckling them in, as the coat can create space and slack in the belts that can compress in a crash, she added.
Lauren Paterno, a AAA Northeast worker and mother of 2-year-old Hudson Goldberg, demonstrated the right way to place a child in a seat during the news conference.
Placing Hudson into his seat, she made sure the chest buckle was at the level of his armpits, and that the shoulder straps had less than an inch of slack.
"I think it's pretty easy to get him in there," she said. "As long as there's music on and he has a little toy, he's OK. If there's an issue I'll pull over and check him."
Outside the Buybuy Baby in Garden City, Silva talked about how easy it was to use the car seat. Hers easily transfers back and forth from the stroller.
"You turn on the TV and there's always some car crash," she said. "Any way you can protect your kid is great."