In Washington state, the law requires that all children under two years old be restrained in a rear-facing car seat, while children between two and four must be in a forward-facing car seat. Similarly, children above four must be secured in an appropriate car seat or booster seat until they’re 4’9″ tall.

As a mother in Washington State with a son named Jason, I know how scary it can be to think about the dangers of the road. Every time we buckle him into his car seat, my heart aches with the thought of what could happen if we don’t follow the proper safety guidelines.

That’s why I want to stress the importance of Washington State’s car seat laws. Did you know that child restraint devices saved the lives of 325 children under the age of four in 2017 alone? These statistics prove that taking the time to ensure our children are properly restrained is worth it.

This blog post covers all the important things you need to know about Washington State car seat laws.

Washington State Car Seat Laws

Washington has relatively comprehensive car seat laws compared to several other states. And since the update in Jan 2020, the rules have become even more transparent and precise.

Here are the basics of Washington State car seat laws:

  • All children under two years old must be in a rear-facing car seat.
  • Children aged two to four years must be in a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness.
  • Children older than four must be in either a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness or a booster seat—Whichever is appropriate according to standard weight and height limits used by car seat manufacturers.
  • Children can graduate to adult seat belts once they’re 4’9″ tall. However, the state recommends keeping children in a booster seat until they’re 12 years of age.
  • Children who have outgrown booster seats must be properly secured using lap and shoulder seat belts.

Appropriate Car Seats According to Washington Car Seat Law

Let’s break down what type of car seat is appropriate for different age groups and how the law applies to them.

WA Car Seat Laws

Rear-facing car seats (Infant and convertible)

Washington state requires all children younger than two to be buckled up in rear-facing car seats. This was part of the new law instituted in 2020 and applies to all infants from birth till they turn two.

You have two options in the category; infant-only car seat and convertible car seat.

But don’t be tempted to switch to forward-facing as soon as the child turns two. The rear-facing position is safer for a child’s delicate neck and spine. So, it’s best to wait until the child reaches the weight or height limit required for the front-facing position.

Forward-Facing Car Seat (Convertible and Combination)

As your child grows, their car seat needs to change too. In Washington State, it’s required by law that children between 2 and 4 years of age use a forward-facing car seat. But it’s important to note that this is just the minimum requirement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Child Safety Commission both recommend keeping your child in a forward-facing seat until they reach the maximum height or weight limit of the seat, which for most kids is around the age of 8 years.

You can continue using the convertible car seat in front-facing mode, buy a dedicated combination seat, or upgrade to an all-in-one seat.

I recommend buying a seat with high weight and height limits, so your kid can use it for as long as possible. And make sure the seat has a five-point harness system for maximum security.

Booster Seat (Backless and High-back)

Once your kid has outgrown the forward-facing car seat (usually around eight years of age), it’s time to graduate them to a booster seat. 

Washington state recommends that all children under 12 years use booster seats but are not legally bound to follow the rule. However, it does give the upper height limit; the kid has to be in some child restraint until they reach 4’9″. Which we can safely assume will be around 12 years of age.

Your kid can use either a backless or high-back booster seat that raises the child to ensure the lap and shoulder seat belt fits them securely. Most booster seats also have adjustable headrests to support their still-growing neck and spine. Ensure the seat is installed correctly in the car and your child is securely buckled up before you start driving.

When Can A Child Sit In The Front Sit In Washington State?

Washington state does not have a law regarding the use of the front seat—children of any age can sit on the front seat. Although, the Washington state child safety department and NHTSA recommend that children below 13 years of age should sit in the rear seat. 

However, if your car has no rear seat or it’s occupied, and you must sit your kid in the front, make sure the passenger side airbag is turned off. Kids have delicate bodies and cannot withstand the impact of the airbag in case of an unfortunate accident. In addition, if you’re placing kids in a car seat on the front seat, make sure it’s as far from the dash as possible.

Washington Car Seat Laws for Older Children

In Washington State, child seat laws don’t apply to kids who have reached 4’9″ in height. At this point, the standard seatbelt law applies, meaning an adult shoulder and lap seat belt must secure every passenger.

This means after your kid has reached the limit of their booster seat, they must be secured with a regular seat belt. The driver or other people accompanying the child is responsible for ensuring they are properly secured until they’re 16.

Washington state also recommends that kids below 13 should always sit in the back seat. Although it’s not legally required, it does add an extra layer of protection from front-end collisions. But if you must seat them in the front, move the seat back as far as possible and turn off the airbag.

5-Step Seat Belt Test for Teen/Tweens

This 5-step seat belt safety checklist can help ensure your kid is ready for the adult seat belt and safely buckled up before the car is in motion.

  1. The kid is not slouching-has their back against the vehicle seat
  2. The shoulder belt fits snugly across the chest and mid-shoulder.
  3. The lap belt is low enough, sitting on the upper thighs and hips.
  4. The child can comfortably bend the knee at the edge of the seat without slouching.
  5. The child can stay seated in this position for the entire duration of your trip.

If your child meets all these requirements, they are ready for the adult seat belt. Otherwise, you might have to switch back to a booster seat until they are big enough.

Washington Car Seat Laws for Public Transport

Washington car seat law does provide some exceptions to vehicles registered as public transportation; here’s a quick overview.

Taxi Cab: Vehicles registered as “for hire” or “taxi,” are exempt from all child seat laws. But they still must comply with the seatbelt belt law applicable to older children.

Buses: All public buses, shuttles, and school buses are exempt from child restraint law.

Ride-sharing services: Washington state doesn’t specify the safety requirements for ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft. However, since they mostly operate as personal vehicles and are not registered in the state as public transportation, they must comply with all child restraint laws.

Vehicles manufactured without a seat belt: The law also gives an exception to vehicles manufactured without the factory-installed seatbelt. These are mostly the cars from before 1965 and other vehicles such as golf carts, ATVs, or executive vehicles. You don’t have to buckle the kids in any car or booster seat in these cases.

Penalties for Violating Washington Car Seat Laws

Washington state has some of the strictest car seat laws in the country. It has a tiered penalty system for people found violating the law repeatedly.

  • The first-time offenders can choose between paying a $75 fine or attending a $25 child safety seat education class.
  • The second-time offenders must pay the $75 fine and attend the $25 education class.
  • Third-time offenders must pay a fine of up to $125.
  • The fourth-time offenders pay a fine of up to $150.

Remember that it’s a primary violation, which means law enforcement officers can pull you over if they suspect you’re not using the car seat for your children.

Bottom Line

Washington State has done a great job in making and enforcing the car seat laws. But the responsibility to make sure the kids are safe and secure on the road ultimately falls on the adults accompanying them.

So make sure you follow the car seat laws and use a proper restraint system for children of all ages. Be very careful when you decide to switch from one seat to the next. And finally, always use the 5-Point Seat Belt Test to ensure your kid is appropriately restrained in the car.

 

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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Keren Simanova

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