Car Seat Laws play an important role in the selection of your next car seat. However, many parents fail to take notice of those laws.

There is no doubt that choosing the right infant car seat can be a tough and time-consuming task for most parents.

There are many options to weigh, and safety is number one on the list.

A study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that car seats in 2016 saved 328 children ages 5 and under.

Not only is an infant car seat required by law, but it is important to perform due diligence on the right car seat for your newborn baby to keep them protected.

We understand that comparing infant car seats is a tough task.

We provide you with the insights to make more informed purchase decisions and rest easier knowing you have the right safety seat for your bundle of joy.

This Article Reviews Car Seat Laws Nationwide. For Specific States checkout the articles bellow.

Child Car Seat Laws

Each year, thousands of children are killed or injured in an auto accident.

Though injuries from traffic accidents in the United States have decreased in recent years, in part due to the use of child safety equipment such as car seats and helmets, auto accidents remain the number one cause of unintentional injuries.

The World Health Organization states that about 260,000 children age 10 – 19 are unintentionally killed per year and over 9.9 million are injured.

Many reasons can cause such numbers, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, reckless driving, improper installation, or lack of a child safety seat.

Over the last 30 years, United States laws have been in place to protect children from injury or death due to unintentional traffic accidents.

New Technology Saves Lifes 

The technology, awareness, and regulations are placed to help keep our nation’s youth protected. It is crucial for all drivers to be aware of traffic laws, whether you have children or not, the next fatal traffic move could unintentionally kill someone.

Keeping children protected at all times with safe buckling and safety seat practices can help prevent unintentional traffic deaths.

The proper use of safety seats, installation, following state laws, and safe driving can help improve these numbers.

For instance, child safety seat use reduces the risk for death to infants (aged <1 year) by 71% and to toddlers (1 – 4 years old) by 54% in passenger vehicles. (Durbin, 2011)

How can we lower deaths to children caused by traffic accidents? What are the laws in place to help protect children from injury or death in an auto accident?

Cosco MightyFit 65

 

Laws By Age-Group

Infants & Toddlers

  • Rear-facing only
  • Rear-facing convertible

All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing seat until they reach the highest allowable weight or height by the car seat manufacturer.

Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride in a  rear-facing seat for two years or more.

Pre-Schoolers

  • Forward-facing convertible
  • Forward-facing with harness

Children that outgrow the rear-facing weight or height limit for their convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat manufacturer. Many car seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.

School-Aged Children

Booster Seats: All children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly.

Typically when they have reached 4’ 9” in height and are 8 through 12 years of age. All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat.

Older Children

Seat Belts : When children are old enough and large enough for the vehicle seat belt to fit them correctly, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the best protection.

All children younger than 13 years should ride in the back seat.

Seat Belt Requirement On School Bus 

5 states require seat belts for passengers. Those states are California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York. In addition, Texas requires belts on school buses purchased after September 2010.

Recently, to avoid further accidents and safer roads, many states have adopted roadside technology. It photographs cars going in excess speeds and running red lights through intersections.

Our roads need safety for all drivers and passengers. Therefore, those who cannot obey laws are fined and in some cases suspended from driving privileges.    

In an ideal world, infants and children in all vehicles should be covered by enforceable safety belt laws. Otherwise, they should be covered by child safety seat laws, or both.

Differences in the wording of the law in various states result in many occupants, especially children, not being covered by any law.

school bus requirements

 

History of Car Seats Laws & Safety

history of car seat laws and safetyCar seats were initially designed to lift children high enough to see out the car window. More importantly, they were designed to keep children in one spot without moving around.

Originally, child seats started out as burlap sacks with a drawstring that hung over the headrest of them on the passenger seat.

It wasn’t until 1933 when Bunny Bear Company produced what would be today’s booster seat.

Over the years, various upgrades and changes made to child seats.  By 1969, Jean Ames and Len Rivkin designed car seats for child safety purposes. Ames design featured a Y-strap, rear-facing car seat similar to today’s model. Moreover, Rivkin developed a car seat with metal framing.

By the late ’60s, auto manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors caught on and started mass producing child car safety seats.

Shortly after this, in 1971, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created the first federal standards. Consequently, in 1979 Tennessee became the first state to enact child restraint laws.

By 1985, all states had adopted restraint laws. However, only 80% of children were reported to be using a car seat by 1987.

Over time, regulations have required more child passenger safety requirements of drivers and manufacturers of safety seats.

Auto manufacturers have included LATCH systems to help improve the installation and stability of a car seat during an accident.

As time passes, child passenger seat laws and regulations routinely updated as technology advances.

State-by-State Laws

The United States safety seat laws for infants, babies, and children can vary from state-to-state.

Each state has specific laws based on age, weight, and seat-type requirements such as when a parent can transition from a convertible car seat to a booster seat.

AAA features each state’s safety seat law requirement. Utilize AAA Child Passenger Safety for the United States or Canada to determine what is required by your location.

More About Car Seat Laws History 

laws by age group

Let’s take a look at the history behind child safety seats and when laws came into play in the United States.

Child safety seat laws are required in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The regulations require children to travel in approved child restraints or booster seats.
Furthermore, it is required for older children to use adult safety belts based on size, weight, and height of the child.

Each state is different in which straps can be used instead of child safety seats.

Child safety seat laws cover children up to the point they do not require any more car seats. Furthermore, safety belt laws cover older children and adults.

Enforcement and fines differ in all states under belt use and child safety seat laws. It’s important to know which regulations are get violated when a child isn’t appropriately restrained based on the state and local laws.

Police may stop a vehicle solely for child safety seat violations. In Nebraska and Ohio, police must have an additional reason for stopping the car and enforcing the law.

Nebraska’s law is secondary for children who may be in safety belts ande. primary for children who must be in a child safety seat. Ohio’s law is secondary for children ages 4 – 14 years of ag

us car seat laws

Child safety seat laws required in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The regulations require children to travel in approved child restraints, booster seats, and some permit older children to use adult safety belts based on size, weight, and height of the child.

Each state is different in which car seat belts can be used instead of child safety seats. Child safety seat laws generally cover children, and safety belt laws cover older children and adults.

 

Traffic Citations 

For traffic citations and fines, the first offense for non-compliance with a state’s child passenger safety laws varies from $10 – $500. Some states use driver’s license points as an additional penalty not complying to the traffic rules.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require a booster seat. If a not a booster then another appropriate device for children that outgrow their child safety seat but too small to safely use an adult seat belt.

South Dakota is the only state that lacks booster seat laws. Eleven other states (California, Connecticut, Nebraska [effective 01/01/2019], New Jersey, New York [effective 11/01/2019], Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia [effective 07/01/2019]) require children under the age of two be in a rear-facing child safety seat.

Lawmakers Decreasing The GAP

Lawmakers have amended their child safety seat and safety belt laws to decrease gaps in wording. Still, 15-year-olds riding in the rear seat in Arkansas, Alabama, and Ohio, and children age 9 and older.
Who are not taller than 4′ 9″ riding in the rear-seat in Oklahoma are covered by neither law. In the other 46 states and the District of Columbia, all children younger than 16 are covered by one, or both laws.

In April 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement recommending that children ride in rear-facing child safety seats until at least age 2.

Previously, the recommendation was riding in rear-facing seats until at least age 1 and 20 pounds or more.

Since the AAP’s amendment to the policy, 12 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia have updated their child restraint laws.

In August 2018, the AAP modified policy statements to remove reference to a numerical age.

The existing recommendation is for children to ride in rear-facing seats until they reach the rear-facing weight or height limit of their car seats.

Registering Car Seats

When you find and purchase the infant baby car seat of your choice, you can register it with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

This gives the manufacturer the ability to contact you in case of recalls and safety notices. Every car seat comes with a manufacturer’s card that you can fill out and mail in.

Moreover, you can submit an online form through the manufacturer’s website.

Car Seat Laws on Airplanes

car seat laws on airplanesA CRS or Child Restraint System is a child safety seat that is approved by the government. It is approved for use in an aircraft or motor vehicle.

The FAA controls the approval of some, but not all CRS’s. The FAA provides additional information in the FAA guidance and on the NHTSA website.

Infant Car Seat Considerations

To make your buying process that much more comfortable, we’ve taken the liberty and researched the most important considerations when buying a car seat:

Understand Your Car

Before purchasing an infant car seat, the best place to start the search is your vehicle owner’s manual.

Car seats can be attached to a belt or LATCH system, all depending on the system you have in your vehicle and how you plan to install the car seat.

Measure the back seat to know how much room there is between the front seat and rear seat. A car seat with a broader base may not fit if you have a smaller car.

If you have more than one child, you may want to factor that in as well.

Other things to take into consideration: who will be sitting in the back seat with your newborn, how many children are riding in the car, and how many are still in a car seat?

Take measurements of your back seat and bring the tape measure into the store or compare it with the online sizing specifications.     

Convertible Car Seats

nationwide car seat lawsYour first few years will be overwhelming, especially if you are a first-time parent, so saving on a car seat by only purchasing one for your child can be huge savings.

A newborn can sit in either a rear-facing infant seat or convertible seat.

A convertible seat faces the rear of the car and later can be turned around to face the front of the vehicle.

Infants (ages 12 months and under) should always be seated in a rear-facing car seat.

Purchasing a convertible car seat will save you more money in the long run as it can last through the toddler stage.

The downside of a convertible car seat is that you can’t take it in and out of a car as an infant seat.  

Consider Car Seat Stroller

While convertible car seats can save money, an infant seat provides more convenience. The ability to move a sleeping child in and out of the car seamlessly can be worth the extra spend.

Buy New, Not Second Hand

Car seat safety is the most crucial aspect, and every car seat released to the market tested and approved to meet the current safety standards by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA).

Because safety technology is improving so rapidly, purchasing a new seat is much safer than accepting a second-hand car seat or hand-me-down.

On the packaging, you can check for a JPMA stamp, which means it is approved and extensively tested.

Focus on Features

If you are on a tight budget, infant car seats in the lower price point can range from $80 – $200.

It is essential to look for an option that has a 5-point harness (2-shoulder straps, 2-waist straps, and a strap between the legs that meet in the middle).

Side-impact protection (foam or air pads at the side of the baby’s head) and is compatible with the LATCH system.

Additional features will be in the premium price range above $200.

Examples of premium features include an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the seat limiting the amount of movement during a crash, cushier fabric, accessories like little boots around the baby’s feet, and a canopy to protect the baby during inclement weather.

The belt straps of the seat should be adjustable as the baby grows. It is essential to weigh all the features before purchasing a convertible or infant car seat.

Easy to Clean

A car seat that is easy to clean makes life that much easier for a parent of a toddler.

If you are the kind of parent that allows your kids to eat in the car, ease of cleaning is an essential feature for you.  

A seat that can be easily removed from the car, light-weight, and washable fabric are ideal options.

Needless to say, an infant should not be given any snacks, so this is not so much an issue. However, dealing with infants, any mother knows that throw-ups are a big issue.

Therefore, similarly to the toddler mom, a newborn ‘s mom needs a car seat that can be easily cleaned.

Includes Installation Information

If it is your first time raising a baby, then it is most likely your first time installing a car seat. It is a good idea to take your car seat and car to a local installation check location.

AAA offers a seat check locator to help find a location near you.

It is also vital that the safety seat comes with an installation manual. When taking a safety seat to a qualified installation inspector.

You get peace of mind that the safety seat is installed correctly and get a first-hand view of how to install it correctly. It is always good to have the installation manual on hand, as you may need to switch the safety seat from one car to another.   

Bonus Section: The Buyer’s Guide & Laws

Searching for an infant car seat is a long and time-consuming process. The things to look for are: 

  • Knowing whether your car supports a Belt or Latch
  • A convertible car seat that adjusts as your infant grows
  • An infant car seat that includes a stroller at a discount
  • Buying a new car seat and not a second-hand car seat

Safety Ratings

All infant baby car seats approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are safe. They rate their safety on the ease of use which includes four key elements for their ratings. Those elements are as follows:

  • Evaluation of Instructions – this examines the instruction manual for the child safety seat based on the content and clarity of the instructions.
  • Vehicle Installation Features – this examines the features and their ease of use as it pertains to the installation of the baby safety seat in a car.
  • Evaluation of Labels – this examines the labeling attached to the infant baby car seat and its content and clarity.
  • Securing the Child – this examines the features and their ease of use as it pertains to securing the infant baby correctly in the car seat.

Durability

Many infant baby car seats come with an expiration date which can last anywhere between 5 and 9 years after their manufacturing date.

Of course, you can reuse the car seat for any additional children you may have.

If the car seat sustains damage from an accident, then you will need to purchase a new safety car seat. Here are some things to keep in mind for durability:

Materials

The materials used to manufacture the car seat can have a significant impact on the durability of the car seat. The safety seat is made of polypropylene. It is a sturdy plastic that can flex under pressure without cracking easily the way that other plastics do.

Expiration Date

all infant baby car seats come with an owner’s manual that provides an expiration date. This date is also imprinted on the body of the car seat itself or on a label attached to the car seat.

It warns owners that over time, the infant baby car seat may no longer be used. The reason is because of advances in technology and safety standards, and worn down from use.
Replace or Have Seat Inspected if in Accident – If your car was in an accident, have the car seat inspected before continued use, or purchase a new infant baby seat altogether.

Length Manufacturer in Business

It is essential to purchase your infant baby seat from a battle-tested and reputable manufacturer. One of the key ingredients to this is the length of time the manufacturer has been in business.

Going through a reliable and experienced car seat manufacturer is an important aspect when evaluating purchase decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the height and weight requirements for car seats?

All height and weight requirements depend on the car seat. The CDC offers an infographic that illustrates the transition periods for child safety seats.

Can a child sit on your lap in a car?

In nearly all cases, children cannot sit on the lap of another person when the car is moving. A child must be in their own safety seat.

There are situations where an emergency might occur, and there isn’t enough room to safely place the child. In this case, if the distance isn’t very far, then there is flexibility for this law.

Otherwise, the baby or child must be in a safety seat regardless.

What are the car seat laws in Florida?

AAA states that in Florida, “children ages 6 until 18 must be restrained in a child restraint or seat belt. Children under age 6 are required to use a child restraint.”

Why should I dress my baby in thinner layers of clothing before strapping him or her into a car seat?

Dressing your baby or child in thinner layers of clothing before strapping them into a car seat helps to avoid clothing compression.

Increased risk of injury can occur when clothing compresses. Thus, causing the straps to loosen where the restraints are not safe for the baby or child.

Do preemies need a special car seat?

Yes, a preemie infant will need a special car seat. The hospital will perform tests to make sure the preemie infant can fit safely in a semi-reclined position.

Author

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren

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