Bill could force automakers to confront safety hazard blamed for dozens of child deaths a year

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(CBS) — Ten years after losing their 16-month old daughter, Taylor, Andy and Liz Warner still struggle with their loss.

“Some days are harder than others,” Liz told CBS News’ Kris Van Cleave. “Some days I can, you know, get through it and other days I get very emotional.”

Taylor was in a car seat behind her father in the car’s minivan when they were rear-ended going 55 miles per hour. Andy’s seat broke and collapsed backward, killing Taylor.

“She had about six weeks when she was toddling around, and then it was over,” Liz told us when we first spoke to the Warners five years ago. “And it was all because of some stupid car that we thought was the safest thing we could get for our family to protect them.”

What happened to Taylor was not unique. A CBS News investigation that first aired in 2015 revealed that when hit from behind, car front seats may break. Their occupants propelled, forcefully, into the rear seats where children usually sit. Hundreds of children have been injured or killed by collapsing seatbacks, as crash tests have shown for decades. We found examples in nearly all car makes and models. Auto safety experts blame a seatback safety standard dating back to the 1960s that regulates seat strength, one even a banquet chair could pass.

“We lose, on average 50 children a year, one a week who die because the standard is not updated,” Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts told Van Cleave. “One child a week on average for the last 15 years.”

This week, Markey along with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced the Modernizing Seatback Safety Act, which would force automakers and the National Highway Transportation Administration, or NHTSA, to strengthen seat standards within two years.

“Seat backs are failing, because NHTSA is failing to require higher standards. And the automakers are failing to install those safety features and American families are put at risk,” Markey said.

The bill was written in honor of Taylor Warner and other children killed or catastrophically injured in seatback collapses. Senator Markey, who himself was injured by a car as a young child, has been trying to change the seatback standard to protect children since 2015 when a CBS News investigation first told the Warner’s story.

“CBS put the spotlight on this issue,” Senator Markey said. “And as a result, this spotlight is now on NHTSA and the auto manufacturers and our goal is to make sure that we pass the legislation that fixes this problem.”

While an NHTSA spokesperson said the agency would not comment on pending legislation, we did receive the following statement, “NHTSA establishes Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to ensure a baseline of safety for vehicle occupants. When considering changes to Federal safety standards, NHTSA makes data-driven decisions that advance safety and avoids introducing new safety risks. The agency has received petitions for rulemaking on seatbacks and is assessing the relevant information.”

Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, says the time for assessment has passed.

“The Modernizing Seatback Safety Act can finally bring to an end the nightmare of seatback failures that has plagued thousands of families over the last half-century,” Levine said, adding that families like the Warners “should never have had to suffer from decades of auto industry delay and the government’s unwillingness to upgrade the seatback design standard.”

It’s a step the Warners have been fighting for over the past 10 years.

“Hundreds of kids have been affected by this,” Andy said. “I would like to think that this will gain speed and become law. I mean, this is a simple fix. Somebody just needs to be held accountable.”

A fix they believe would be a fitting tribute to Taylor and a lifesaving legacy for the little girl they lost.

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