Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday signed into law a measure that compels insurance companies to replace children's car safety seats after any accident, even if a seat shows no sign of damage.
The law is the first of its kind in the nation.
"This will help families enormously in keeping their children safe," said Kacey Hanson, chairwoman of the California Emergency Nurses Assn.'s injury prevention subcommittee. "The more we pursued this bill, the more families came forward with horror stories about fighting with their insurance companies over this."
In part, the law was designed to raise parents' awareness about the hidden hazards of used car seats, said Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), who wrote the measure. Just 2% of parents are aware that car seats can lose their structural integrity in minor collisions, even if they appear fine, federal safety surveys show.
The new law won approval over objections from the insurance industry, which argued that automatic replacement went too far. Car-seat manufacturers should set a threshold for determining which accidents are severe enough to warrant new seats, insurance company lobbyists argued.
Currently, car-seat makers recommend replacing seats after all collisions. Manufacturers test their products to ensure they can withstand the force of one 30-mph crash, but do not compile data on how seats react in a second collision.
The law is not expected to have a significant effect on insurance companies' finances or on premiums. More than 282,000 children each year are injured in car crashes. Used properly, car seats can reduce the risk of death by 71% for infants and by 54% for children ages 1 to 4.