Child Seat Laws: What You Need to Know

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 27, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Most adults are quite used to buckling up when they get into a car. But teaching our kids to do the same is not only important, it is the law. Each state has its own child seat laws that require various safety restraint systems for children depending often on age and weight. Here are a few examples of some of the most common.

All state car seat laws require a child restraint system, most up to the age of seven, a few up to the age of eight. While many states base the restraint on age and weight, the restraint requirement in Kentucky is based on height: required for anyone under 40" tall. Once a child is over the age, height and/or weight requirement, then regular seatbelt laws apply.

The child restraint systems also vary depending on the age of the child. In many states, infants are required to be in rear facing seat restraint systems. This is usually applicable until the child is one year old and 20 pounds. After that milestone, car seats are required in most states until the next age/weight milestone. Most states require a car seat until around the age of 5-7, with some states requiring a carseat up to the age of 8 (West Virginia, Virginia and Vermont, for example). Florida only requires a car seat until age 3.

The next common restraint system used is the booster seat. This is meant to work with a car's seatbelt system, but raises children up to keep the seatbelt from crossing the child on the neck, which is dangerous in an accident. Many state car seat laws require booster seats until the child is between 4-8 (depending on the state) or 40-80 pounds, again depending on the state. California, for example, requires a booster seat until age 6 or 60 pounds.

Some states require that children up to a set age or weight do not ride in the front seat of a car which has a passenger-side airbag. The force with which the air bag deploys is calibrated to protect an adult and can injure or kill a small child, especially if not restrained properly by the seatbelt.

Many state car seat laws have exceptions for emergency vehicles, vehicles like buses and working vehicles such as farm trucks and tractors.

All states carry a civil penalty such as a fine for breaking the law and some will even add points to your driving record, which could affect your insurance premiums. Since the laws vary so widely, if you are in doubt as to your own state's laws, or are taking a trip to another state, be sure to view a good resource for all the laws. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's list of the Occupant Restraint Laws through September 2005 can be viewed online (pdf).

As the state of California likes to say, click it or ticket. And that goes for your kids, too.

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