Car Laws & Safety

Rhode Island Car Seat Laws | Save Lives – Avoid Fines

State car seat laws are much more than a nuisance for parents. They are attempts to encourage correct car seat usage to reduce infant and child automobile death and injury.

Rhode Island’s car seat laws mimic the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for child safety restraints. The laws apply to all children under eight years old and require a form of restraint appropriate for the child’s size and weight.

Children under 8 must be in the back seat. If they are under 8 and below the minimum height and weight requirements, they must also be in safety or booster seats.

One key area where Rhode Island law does not follow AAP guidelines is in the rear seat recommendation. According to the AAP, children should be in the back seat until they are 13.

Read on to learn about Rhode Island’s laws regarding car seat usage and how to be sure you are using yours correctly.

What are Rhode Island’s Car Seat Laws? 

Rhode Island’s laws regarding child restraints place the following requirements on adults driving with children:

  • Children under 8, less than 57 inches tall, and less than 80 pounds must be in the rear seat of a car, if the car has a rear seat. If all rear seats are already filled with children, a child may be in the front seat even if they do not meet the above requirements.
  • All children under 2 and under 30 pounds must be in a rear-facing child seat.
  • If the child exceeds the height or weight requirements fthe rear-facing seat, then they may be in a front-facing car seat. 
  • If a child is under 8 but at least 57 inches tall and over 80 pounds, then they may wear a standard seat belt. They must be in a rear seat.

Do Children Need Booster Seats in Rhode Island?

Booster seats become appropriate at around age 4, or when your child surpasses the weight or height limits of the convertible, forward-facing seat. Booster seats elevate little bodies to make regular seat belts safe. 

A properly fitting seat belt goes across the chest at lap, not the neck and belly.

Rhode Island law does not specifically address booster seats. However, it does say that children that are least 47 inches and 80 pounds may use a regular seat belt. 

This means that children below that size will need an additional restraint device to meet the requirements. That extra device would be a booster seat.

Rhode Island Rear Facing Car Seat Laws

In Rhode Island, you must use a rear-facing car seat during particular situations. When a child is younger than two years old or weighs less than twenty pounds, regardless of age, then they should be placed in one of these car seats.

That includes infants and babies that are up to two years old. If your child is smaller, then you may want to keep him or her in a rear-facing car seat for longer. Many parents feel safer keeping their child in a rear-facing car seat until the baby is two to three years old. If you decide to do this, your child will be fine. 

Rhode Island Car Seat Laws Stages

Several rear-facing car seat choices exist that will fit the age of your child. You can pick a few different car seats, like

  • An infant carrier
  • A baby car seat
  • A convertible car seat that faces backward

Anyone of these options would meet the minimum requirements for a rear-facing seat in Rhode Island. 

Forward Facing Car Seat

In the state of Rhode Island, there are rules for when your child can use a forward-facing car seat. Your child must be two years old and weigh more than twenty pounds to use a forward-facing car seat in Rhode Island. 

If your child is two and is still below twenty pounds, then you must keep him or her in a rear-facing car seat. That way, he or she will be safer in case of an accident.

There are several rear-facing car seats available for purchase that have higher weight ratings. Some of those car seats allow the child to weigh up to thirty-five pounds and still face backward while driving. So, if you want to wait before turning your child around, that’s fine. 

Using a Booster Seat

There are special rules in place in Rhode Island dictating when your child can use a booster seat. When your child is over two years old and weighs more than twenty pounds, then he or she can use a booster seat or a child safety restraint system in the vehicle’s rear seat. This law applies to all children under eight years old. 

When your child is fifty-seven inches tall or weighs over eighty pounds, then he or she is no longer mandated to utilize a child safety restraint system. However, the child still must sit in the car’s rear seats. Children can only sit in the front seat if other younger children take up the rear seats, or if the car doesn’t include rear seats. 

When you use your booster seat, make sure the lap belt sits over your child’s lap. You want to make sure you do not lay the belt across his or her stomach. The movement of the lap belt can happen quite naturally, so make sure you check on it before you drive away on your adventure. 

Rhode Island Seat Belt Law

Rhode Island also has laws about using seatbelts. In Rhode Island, it is the driver’s responsibility to make sure everybody riding in the car is using a seatbelt.

If a person is caught not wearing his or her seatbelt, the driver will be fined $40 as well as additional court costs. If a driver only has a learner’s permit, then he or she can have other penalties imposed upon him or her, including license advancement displays because of a seatbelt violation. 

There are some exceptions when it comes to Rhode Island’s seat belt law. Particular people and vehicles can be exempt from these seat belt laws. Postal carriers and vehicles made before 1966 are exempt from these laws.

Also, people that are medically unable to wear a seatbelt can be exempt. However, a person must carry a certification from a physician documenting the medical issue. 

Rhode Island Seat Belt Law 

The last group of children we need to cover are those that use an adult safety belt. In Rhode Island, once a child is over eighty pounds and taller than fifty-seven inches, then he or she can sit in the back seat and use a seat belt.

It is recommended that your child sit in the back seat and use a seat belt until he or she is seventeen years old. 

If your vehicle does not have a back seat or is occupied by other, younger children, then your older child may sit in the front using a seat belt. Remember, you should always keep your youngest child in the back seat of your car. 

Penalties for Not Following Rhode Island Car Seat Laws

If you receive a child restraint violation in Rhode Island, you will be fined $85, and you’ll also need to pay court costs. However, if the driver can purchase an appropriate car seat within seven days of the violation, then the judge will dismiss the citation. 

If you don’t take care of the matter, you will have to appear in front of a judge. That’s because not using a child restraint seat in Rhode Island is considered child endangerment. 

What is the AAP Recommendation for Car Seats?

The American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC general recommendations for child safety restraints are as follows:

  • Children should always be in the back seat until at least 13 years of age. 
  • Kids under two should always be a rear-facing car seat. They should stay rear-facing as long as their seat permits. Rear-facing is the safest position for car seats.
  • After children grow beyond the rear-facing guidelines for their safety seat, they should then be in a forward-facing car seat. The car seat should still be in the back seat of the car. 
  • Children should be in a forward-facing car seat until they are 5 years old.
  • After outgrowing the car seat, children should remain in the back seat with a booster seat. The booster seat helps the shoulder seat belt fit correctly.

Why Are There Laws about Car Seat Usage?

According to the CDC, child restraint laws and enforcement of those laws are two strategies states can implement to improve usage. Other strategies are distribution of seats, education programs, and incentives like prizes.

States may enact laws concerning the use and operation of motor vehicles. For example, we also have laws about adult seat belts, cell phone use, and alcohol consumption. 

These laws both improve safety for others on the road as well as passengers in the car. Here, public policy supports the protection of children. 

With these laws have come massive public education campaigns to demonstrate the safety benefit of proper child restraints. The laws provide further motivation for adults not moved to protect children in vehicles.

When Can a Child Sit in the Front Seat?

Rhode Island’s laws permit children to sit in the front seat if they are 8 years old. They must also be 56 inches tall and at least 80 pounds. 

Remember, this is contrary to the AAP guidelines. The AAP recommends that all children under 13 remain in the back seat regardless of height and weight. 

What are the Car Seat Laws for Taxis and Rideshares?

Rhode Island’s laws regarding child restraint laws described above apply to private vehicles, taxis, and ride shares equally. The laws apply to “any person transporting a child.”

Can Parents Get in Trouble for Breaking Car Seat Laws?

Depending on the specific violation, adults who fail to ensure a child is properly restrained can be subject to fines.

Initially, a citation will be issued. That citation can be voided if a parent presents a receipt to prove the purchase of an appropriate car or booster seat. The receipt must be presented within 7 days of the citation. 

Otherwise, the adult may be subject to a fine of up to $85. The fine for children over 8 not wearing a seat belt is also $85. 

Under Rhode Island law, the failure to properly restrain a child cannot be used as contributory or comparative negligence at trial. Contributory or comparative negligence is partial blame assigned in a legal scenario.

This means that if the child is involved in an accident, the lack of proper restraint is not admissible as evidence. The person who hurt the child is not less at fault because the child was not in a car seat. 

Improper child seat use convictions will not be added to an adult’s driving record. 

What if I Cannot Afford a Car Seat?

Hasbro Hospital in Rhode Island runs a program to provide car seats to low-income families.

If you qualify for public benefits, you may qualify for a free or discounted car seat through Medicaid or WIC

How Do I Know Whether I Installed the Seat Properly?

Even the best car seat can be worthless when not used properly. They are designed to have very precise, snug fits to minimize any movement a baby would experience in an accident.

To achieve this, the harness must be set at the baby’s armpit level and must be pulled tightly. Straps not adjusted properly can be dangerous and put pressure on vulnerable body parts.

Check the CDC’s diagram of the most common car seat fit mistakes to double-check the fit. For new parents, the hospital where the baby is born is a convenient, knowledgeable resource.

Many hospitals, fire stations, and police stations off free checks by a specialist who will look at your car seat in your car. 

If you have never installed a car seat and had it checked, assume you are doing it wrong. The NHSTA estimates that 72 percent of car seats are not installed properly!

Are Some Car Seats Safety-Approved?

Car seats that meet federal safety regulations will have the following label with this exact wording:

“This restraint system conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards. This restraint is certified for use in all motor vehicles and aircraft.” 

This labeling means that the device in questions has been tested to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213. FMVSS 213 establishes construction and safety criteria. 

Unfortunately, some car seats sold online do not meet these standards. You can double-check each brand at healthychildren.org.

What Type of Car Seat Should I Get?

There are so many car seats available on the market that it can be really challenging to choose only one. It doesn’t help that they are pricey investments, so there is added pressure to get it right the first time. 

Check the NHSTA’s visual chart to help you identify which stage your child is in. Car seats are generally labeled as an infant seat, convertible seat, booster seat, or all-in-one seat.

Can I Buy or Borrow a Used Car Seat?

Safety experts strongly recommend against the use of previously owned car seats. The concern is that the seat may have already been in an accident. 

Like helmets, car seats should be replaced after every accident. The internal protections of the seat may have been compromised even if it looks fine on the outside.

Final Thoughts Regarding Car Seats in Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s car seat laws to provide specificity regarding rear-facing seats for children under two. They also reference keeping children in the back seat until age 8.

Remember that the state’s laws fall well below the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatricians. Try to meet the AAPs safety guidelines instead of only following the law.

Doing so will ensure you are both within the law and doing all you can to keep your child safe.

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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