Washington State car seat laws are in place to help keep your child safe while on the road. Even if you are a good driver, others on the road may not be as cautious, and things do happen.
The Washington car seat laws require children under the age of 2 to use a rear-facing car seat. Children between the age of 2 and 4 may sit in the proper forward-facing car seat. Children four and older must be in a booster seat until they reach 4’ 9” or are older than eight.
All children who ride in vehicles in Washington and are under the age of 13 must sit in the back seat. The proper safety restraint, either a car seat, booster seat or seat belt, must be in place. Let’s take a look in more detail as some of these car seat laws and what you need to follow while driving in Washington.
Recent Update To Washington State Law
Washington State car seat laws are updated as new research comes out to help keep your child as safe as possible.
In fact, at the beginning of 2020, Washington made some revisions to their car seat laws and requirements. These go into effect for all children under the age of 16 who are being transported in a vehicle.
Following these car seat laws are important. They not only help you avoid penalties and fines but will keep your child safe.
Washing Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws
Washington car seat laws require all children under the age of 2 to be in a rear-facing car seat. The state does not list anything about the weight and height requirements.
There are many great rear-facing car seats that you can choose for your child. Many have higher weight limits as well. Choosing one that can go up to 35 pounds while being rear facing will be best. This allows your child to stay safe while driving in the vehicle, even during a collision.
It is always safer to keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. If they have not reached the maximum height and weight limit of the car seat, consider keeping them rear facing past the age of 2.
It is tempting to turn your child to a forward-facing seat after they turn 1. This is allowed in some states, but not in Washington. Your need needs to stay rear facing until they turn 2.
The Forward-Facing Laws
Washington car seat laws allow children ages 2 to 4 to use a forward-facing car seat. Make sure your child meets all height and weight requirements before doing this. Many car seats have higher weight and height limits to help your child stay in the car seat for longer. Make sure to follow the instructions on your car seat too.
Parents can choose to use a two-in-one car seat when they first turn their children around. This adds a bit more protection when your child faces forward in the car.
Choose a forward-facing car seat with a higher weight limit on it. This allows your child to safely use the car seat for longer before they need to switch to the next level of the car seat.
Washington Booster Seat Laws
Washington car seat law requires children ages four and older to use a booster seat. Children must remain in the booster seat until they reach the height of 4’ 9”.
There are several types of booster seats and the parent can choose the one they want to use. If your car does not have proper headrests, it is best to stick with a booster seat with a back.
While your child is in the booster seat, you must properly place the seat belt. This means there should be a shoulder and a lap belt. The lap belt must be across the lap, and not the stomach. Do not let the shoulder belt go under the arm.
Once the child is 4’ 9”, they can move over to a seat belt position. Check that the seat belt is put on them properly to keep them safe.
If your child is under 4’ 9” when they turn eight, the parent may choose whether to use a booster seat or a seat belt. The child must hit one of these two milestones before moving to the seat belt.
Car Seat Laws for Older Children
Washington car seat law requires all children 13 and older to ride in the back seat of the vehicle. Children must also wear a seat belt properly while riding in the vehicle.
If the car does not have a back seat, then the child may sit upfront. If all available seats in the back are taken by younger children, then the oldest child may sit upfront.
When Can My Child Wear a Seat Belt in Washington?
Washington has a five-point test to check whether your child can move out of a booster seat and into a regular seat belt. Keep in mind most children will need to remain in the booster until at least 8 years old.
The five-step test that Washington state uses for seat belts includes:
- The child must have their back against the seat of the vehicle. Check for slouching.
- The knees of the child must bend at the edge of the seat.
- The lap belt must fall low across the upper thighs. The shoulder belt should fall across the mid-shoulder.
- The feet of the child must rest on the floor.
- The child must be able to remain in this position for the entire trip.
If your child can meet all five of these steps, then it is time to transition out of the booster seat and into a seat belt.
Washington Car Seat Laws for the Front Seat
Washington car seat law requires that all children under the age of 13 sit in the backseat until that is not practical.
The backseat is the safest place for your child while driving. However, the child restraint law does provide exceptions for vehicles that do not have a back seat, such as using a truck.
Most vehicles without a back seat will provide an option to turn off the airbag on the passenger side. You should make sure this is turned off before placing the car seat or having the child there.
Washington car seat law will include an exception for larger families. If all of the back seats are occupied by children properly restrained, then one child may sit in the front if necessary.
This should only be done if there are no more back seats available for the child. So, if you are driving a car and have four children, the younger three must sit in the back. The oldest, even if they are under the age of 13, may sit in the front.
Parents must ensure that the child is still properly restrained while being in the front seat. Do not use a rear-facing car seat in front of the airbag. The child may be forward-facing but move them as far from the dash as the front seat allows.
Washington Car Seat Laws for Toddlers
Washington car seat laws for toddlers require the child to stay in an approved car seat. This usually allows them to stay in a forward-facing car seat with the right harness in place.
All car seats must be approved by the Department of Transportation safety standards. Most car seats on the market today that hasn’t surpassed their expiration date will meet these requirements.
It is best to leave your toddler in an approved car seat for as long as possible. This helps keep them safe, keeps the seat belt from harming them, and keeps them in place while the car is moving.
The back seat is also the safest place for your child until they are 13 years old. The exception to this is if the vehicle does not have a back seat. If the other seats are taken by properly restrained child seats, then a younger child may sit in the front seat.
Most children will not be ready for a booster seat until they are at least four years old. This takes them out of the toddler stage. Read the recommendations on your chosen car seat. Many allow for the child to be up to 65 pounds, providing more security much longer than you may think.
What are the Car Seat Laws in an Uber/Taxi in Washington State?
Washington car seat law does provide some exceptions for taxis and Ubers who transport smaller children. You need to follow the proper procedure, or you may still be held responsible for a violation.
To be exempt from the child restraint requirements, a “for hire” vehicle needs to be registered as such. Most taxi companies will already have their vehicles registered in this way.
However, personal vehicles used as Lyft and Uber are not exempt without the proper registration. You must complete this registration to gain exemptions. Even when your vehicle is exempt, you should ensure that all occupants are properly restrained. This helps to avoid any liability if a crash does occur.
Parents and caregivers who use taxis and Uber must bring along the appropriate child restraint. Failure to do so will result in violations and penalties. Some Uber and taxi drivers will refuse to drive passengers without proper safety restraints.
Washington School Bus Safety Laws
Washington child restraint law exempts school buses from the rules above. Many school buses do not have seat belts available because school buses are seen as relatively safe.
In addition to school buses, multifunction school activity buses will be exempt from these car seat laws as well. Vehicles that provide shuttle services between hotels and conventions and airport terminals are exempt as well.
Parents must remember that these exemptions are not the security of the vehicle being the safest mode of protection. They must determine whether this is a safe mode of transportation for their children.
How to Install the Car Seat
Not only are the rules above important for the safety of your child. You must also install the car seat properly.
All car seats will provide instructions on how to properly install in your vehicle. If something is challenging, seek help and ask questions to make sure your child stays safe while you drive.
When the installation is done, you should check to make sure the car seat is in properly. To do this, move the car seat up and down, as well as back and forth.
If the car seat barely moves, then you have installed it well and your child will be safe. If the car seat moves more than an inch in any direction, you have not installed the car seat correctly and need to make corrections.
Penalties for Violating Washington Car Seat Laws
Parents and other caregivers who do not adhere to all the Washington car seat laws will face consequences. If a law enforcement officer stops your vehicle and notices these issues, there are penalties.
Drivers will receive a traffic citation. The parent will receive a fine of $112 or more per each child that is not restrained properly. After violating the law, the driver can get their ticket dismissed rather than paying the ticket. This is different than what is allowed in most states.
However, the driver must prove that they have obtained an adequate child restraint system within seven days of getting the ticket. If the driver has done this once before and gets a second ticket, the second ticket will not be waived.
The Washington car seat laws are in place to keep your child safe. When parents follow these laws, they can ensure their child is protected while riding in the vehicle.
Parents must make sure they understand the Washington car seat laws. These recently changed in 2020 so knowing how they work, and how they relate to your family will keep everyone safe.