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Car Seat Laws

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What are car seat laws?

Car seat laws govern the use of car seats, also known as child safety seats. Safety seat requirements vary depending on the child’s age, weight, and height. In general, safety belt laws vary widely from state to state. Therefore it follows that child safety seat requirements also vary according to state rules.

Car seats must be installed properly in order or them to be effective. They should be used in the back seat of the vehicle in order to avoid injuries from airbags. Improperly installed car seats can sometimes increase the risk of injury rather than reduce it. If you are unsure about proper installation, most police or fire stations will conduct an inspection free of charge to make sure it is installed properly.

What are the types of car seats and when should they be used?

Car seats are manufactured based on the child’s age and bodily dimensions. Parents usually go through a progression of different child safety seats as the child grows in size. Eventually the child will not need one as they meet the required age and dimensions.

As mentioned, each state has different requirements, but generally the following types of car seats guidelines are enforced:

  • Rear-facing car seats: Newborns and infants should ride in a rear-facing car seat placed in the back seat of the vehicle. Most states require rear-facing models for children under one year old and/or under 20 pounds.
  • Forward facing car seats: Forward facing seats may be used in the back seat for children aged 1-4 years old and under 40 pounds.
  • “Booster seats”: These are less restraining and are for the purpose of raising the child’s body so that they fit properly into adult seat belts. Booster seats may be used in the back seat until the child is 8 years of age and over 4’9” in height
  • Seat belts or safety belts: Regular seat belts may be used when the child completely graduates from all types of car seats. It is still best to have the child sit in the rear seat when at all possible

    State laws may or may not reflect these guidelines, but you should follow them if you are unclear about your state’s requirements.

    What are the penalties for violating child car seat laws?

    Failure to use a car seat when required is usually considered a traffic offense. It can result in fines anywhere from $10 to $500 depending on the state. In addition, some states impose additional penalties, such as points on one’s driver’s license record or mandatory child safety education. 

    Some states consider child seat violations to be a “primary offense”. This means that a police officer can stop you and issue a ticket if you are seen while in violation. Other states consider car seat violations to be a “secondary offense”, which means that police can only issue a citation if you are pulled over for different violation, such as running a traffic light. Once you are pulled over, you may be cited if the officer sees that you child is not properly restrained.

    Finally, if you are involved in a private lawsuit regarding an automobile collision, failure to use a child safety seat usually does not result in a reduced damages award. That is, the other party normally can’t hold it against you in court if your child was not in a safety seat at the time of an accident.

    What if I cannot afford a car seat?

    You should make all efforts to ensure that you follow car seat requirements. Being unable to afford one is not a valid excuse for violations of car seat laws.

    If you cannot afford a car seat, there are several organizations that may be able to offer assistance by donating one or subsidizing a safety seat. You should also contact your local police department or a hospital to see if they have donations available.

    You may also be able to purchase a second-hand (used) car seat at a reasonable price. If you do so, be sure to inspect it for cracks or other damages. Contact the manufacture to make sure that the seat has not been recalled.

    Do I need a lawyer for car seat violations?

    If you are facing a dispute over car seat violations, you should contact a personal injury lawyer immediately. They can help you understand your state’s requirements, as well as provide advice in the event of a lawsuit. Car seat violations are serious not only because of the legal consequences, but also because your child’s safety may be at risk.

  • Photo of page author Ken LaMance

    , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

    Last Modified: 01-12-2015 10:30 AM PST

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