Car Seat Laws

Pennsylvania Car Seat Laws Explained

Abiding by Pennsylvania car safety laws is essential for your child’s well-being in a moving vehicle. Pennsylvania requires that children under the age of 4-years-old must ride in an approved car seat at all times.

This applies to when your child is seated anywhere in a vehicle that is moving. Children who are under 2-years-old must sit in a rear-facing seat.

Each car seat contains weight and age parameters that are made to guide you as your child grows. Once a standard car seat is no longer needed, a booster seat can be used up until around 8-years-old.

Staying up to date on the Pennsylvania state laws is important because it will assist you when you must decide on what type of car seat you need.


What Are Car Seat Recommendations?

Pennsylvania Car Seat LawsAccording to Pennsylvania Car Seat Laws, after selecting a seat that applies to your child’s size, you will need one that fits properly in your vehicle.

Most car seats contain a LATCH system that needs to be set up in your car. This stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children; it is a way to set up a car seat without using the seatbelt.

LATCH is something that comes in cars made in 2012 and later, but some older models do have it. Because of this, you will come to find out that not all car seats are compatible with all cars. Your car manual should provide you with insight on whether or not you have the LATCH system.

Keep your child in the proper car seat for as long as possible before moving up to the next size. As long as you are abiding by the height and weight guidelines, you will be in accordance with the Pennsylvania laws. It is recommended that children under 12 need to stay seated in the backseat.

As mentioned, the first in the series of car seats is the rear-facing seat. Appropriate for infants, you can either go with an infant-only car seat or a convertible car seat. That decision is up to you. If you think about the future, going with a seat that is convertible can grow with your child.

Once your child is at the top of the height/weight requirements, then you can switch over to a front-facing car seat. The same option is available here — You can go with a standard seat or a convertible one. Some front-facing seats convert into booster seats for the future.

Based on Pennsylvania Car Seat Laws, the child should stay in the booster seat until he/she is at least 8-years-old and meets the appropriate height/weight requirements. The seat belt in the car needs to fit properly before the child is ready to ride without a car seat. You will be able to tell if it fits by the way belt fits — It should go across the upper thighs, chest, and shoulders.

Key Points to Remember

  • Use the height/weight chart as a guideline for which car seat to purchase
  • A car seat/booster seat is needed until at least 8-years old according to the Pennsylvania Car Seat Laws
  • Children under 12 should stay in the backseat
  • All cars made in 2012-present have a LATCH system

What Are Fitting Stations?

If you are still unsure if you have your child’s car seat hooked up correctly, you can stop by a fitting station for help. PennDOT funds over 75 locations where you can go to check the safety of your car seat. Using a locator tool online, you can find a fitting station on the Safe Kids website that is near you.

A fitting station is a place where you can go to confirm that you are correctly hooking up the car seat. If you are having any difficulties, you can get help with them here. This is a certified establishment that is in accordance with Pennsylvania state laws.

The trained technicians will examine your set up and give you tips and advice on how to make the car seat safer. This is an excellent tool for parents in Pennsylvania. Aside from finding a fitting station, the Safe Kids website will also provide you with the latest car seat recall information. You deserve to have peace of mind in knowing that your child will be safe in the car.

It is important to know if your car seat has any recalls attached to it. The seat might be fine at first, but over time, studies could find that it is unsafe. Just as this happens to cars and car parts, it can also happen to car seats.

Is There Financial Help?

Having a car seat is a necessity, but it can also be very expensive for some families. Those in need of assistance can participate in Pennsylvania’s car seat loan programs. They are designed for lower-income families to borrow car seats for the duration that they are needed.

The seats that are loaned come in a variety of brands and models — From infant car seats to convertible booster seats, you will be able to find the right one for your child. If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can search on Pennsylvania’s Travel Injury Prevention Project website for more information.

If you need to find a car seat at a discounted rate but do not want to participate in a loan program, ensure that what you are purchasing is not a counterfeit model. A proper car seat will have a serial number that correlates to the given manufacturer. Without this, you could be dealing with a counterfeit.

How Should the Car Seat Fit?

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh weighs in on these important safety tips. When you select an appropriate make and model for your child’s car seat, the installation becomes the next important step. As you already know, if there is a LATCH system, you will need to ensure that it is set up properly; this is what keeps the car seat anchored.

Once secured, the seat should not move more than 1 inch on the belt path. When you try to move the seat, it should remain sturdy and in place. Any indication of too much movement is likely a way for you to see that the seat is not installed correctly.

Make sure that the recline settings are appropriate, too. With an infant car seat, you are going to need some recline in order to prevent the child’s head from falling forward. For an older child, you aren’t going to want a reclined position.


The chest clip must remain at armpit level. This might need to be adjusted depending on what clothing your child is wearing and as your child grows bigger. The straps should fit snug without room to pinch the fabric at your child’s shoulder level.

Are There Car Seats for Special Needs Children?

All children must follow Pennsylvania laws regarding car safety, those with special needs included. Not every traditional car seat on the market is appropriate for children with ailments. There are different kinds of restraints and wheelchairs that can make travel accessible for all.

PennDOT works with schools, hospitals, and parents regarding these special circumstances. They provide information that is helpful to those needing to transport special needs children. If you have a child that meets these criteria, PennDOT can give you some recommendations as to where you can find an appropriate car seat.

Ways special needs children can ride in the car include:

  • Car Wheelchairs: The car will need to have extra room to accommodate the chair and a way to enter/exit. For example, it will likely have ramps and/or lifts.
  • Specialty Car Seats: A lot of name-brands create car seats that are appropriate for special needs children. These seats might include extra features such as a special harness or additional room.

Frequently Asked Questions.

How do I get my son to stay in his car seat?

Distractions can be a big help when it comes to keeping your child in place during a car ride. Turn to electronic devices or toys to create a fun environment. Your child will be less likely to mess with the straps if there is another form of entertainment available.

If those methods do not work, you might want to look into buckle guards. They are relatively inexpensive devices that attach to your child’s car seat buckle. This will prevent your child from being able to unbuckle while you are on the road.

Leading by example is also a tip that can be used to get your child to stay seated. If a child sees other passengers in the car who are buckled up, it will encourage this behavior. Make sure that you explain the importance of safety while riding in the car to your child, even at a young age.

Is it safe for my child to sleep in the car?

Generally, a car seat has only one simple purpose — Keeping your child safe while you drive. A lot of parents worry that their child falling asleep in the car can create a dangerous situation. While this is not always true, Healthy Children confirms that a car seat should be used only for travel.

There are certain dangers that come from allowing your child to fall asleep in the car. The neck becomes very vulnerable when you fall asleep. A child who is buckled into a car seat correctly might be perfectly safe awake, but because of a deep sleep, the slouched position can lead to ineffective protection by the car seat.

How can I be sure that my child is ready for a booster seat?

Even if height and weight requirements are being met, it can be a nerve-wracking step to switch from a car seat to a booster seat. Safe Kids Pennsylvania sheds some light on this situation:

  1. Verify that your child is the correct height and weight. This can vary in age, but as long as the child is 8 or older then you should be on the right track to graduating to a booster seat.
  2. Check your child’s shoulder placements. Are they above the car seats top harness slots? This is going to be an indication that your child is big enough to switch car seats.
  3. Take a look at where your child’s ears are in accordance with the current car seat. Do they reach over the top of the car seat?

If all of these criteria are met, then it appears that your child is indeed ready to take the next step in car seat safety. If you are still unsure, you can visit a fitting station to get a second opinion. The technician will be able to examine the seat and how your child fits in it.

What Should You Remember?

Staying safe in the car is not only important to parents, but it is also the law. If you are ever unsure about what the rules and regulations are, you can visit the PA Department of Transportation website for more information. Car seats are an integral part of having a child in the vehicle.

Ensure that you do a lot of research before buying a car seat. Whether you have a newborn baby or you are in need of an upgraded seat, plenty of information can be found online about any make and model. If you need to, bring your child into a store so that you can test the comfort level.

Once you have made a decision, consider how much money you have in your budget for a car seat. Some Pennsylvania families can acquire financial help by way of the loan program. Keep in mind that the exact model might not be available if you are going to be participating in the program.

Make sure that you regularly test the strength and integrity of your child’s current car seat. This means making regular adjustments when necessary. Children grow very fast — It’s not unusual to have to adjust the harness and buckles on a monthly basis.

Know that clothing makes a difference. Your child is going to fit in a car seat differently in the Summer versus the Winter, so keep that in mind when you buckle your child. You might need to take off any jackets or coats before buckling.

There are plenty of resources available if you have any concerns relating to car seats. As long as you are aware of the height/weight car seat guidelines as well as the Pennsylvania state laws, you will be providing your child with the maximum amount of safety in the vehicle.

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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