Car Seat Laws That Every Parents Should Know

Choosing a safe car seat is one of the most important things a parent will do for their child. When deciding which car seat to purchase, parents often look to current guidelines and local car seat laws to help them make the smartest purchase. We have looked into the current guidelines on car seat safety and checked state-specific laws to assist parents in this important decision.

​Comparison Table

What Are Car Seat Recommendations?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) occasionally releases recommendations for protecting children’s safety while in passenger vehicles. AAP encourages pediatricians to review these guidelines at each child health checkup because motor vehicle accidents remain a leading cause of death for children in the United States. And laws are not the same thing, but many car seat laws stem from AAP recommendations.

baby car seats

Image via flickr

The newest AAP child-passenger safety seat recommendations were released in August 2018 and have some important changes. The biggest change is replacing the age recommendations with weight and height recommendations instead. Toddlers should remain rear-facing until they outgrow the weight or height limits. Once forward facing, children should use the car seats until they outgrow them by weight, usually 60lbs

Belt-positioning boosters should replace forward-facing car seats once children outgrow their forward-facing car seats. Only when they are tall enough, usually 4 ft 9 in, to safely use a lap and shoulder belt should children move to an adult style seat belt. All children age 13 and younger should remain in the back seat. Following these recommendations can reduce deaths caused by car accidents by up to 70%.

What Are Car Seat Laws?

Car seat laws are state laws put into place to ensure that parents adhere to safety guidelines for child safety in vehicles. Parents who do not follow them risk enforcement in the form of traffic tickets or child endangerment violations. It is important to note that there are organizations or government institutions in most states that will provide safety seats to families who cannot afford them.

Much like seat belt laws, car seat laws are designed to protect the individual child and to reduce the state’s costs associated with health care expenses due to motor vehicle accidents. Riding in cars remains one of the most dangerous activities regularly undertaken by children in the United States. Car seat laws can drastically impact health and safety for vulnerable children.

Are Car Seat Laws the Same In All States?

baby on gray stroller

Image source: Unsplash

In short, no. Car seat laws vary state to state although all states have laws in place regarding how children should be restrained in passenger vehicles. Below, we summarize car seat laws state-by-state thanks to AAA. We have not included seat belt laws or back seat laws which often extend through childhood even if not required for adults in the car. Parents should be sure to verify these in their home state as laws do frequently change.

Alabama

  • Booster until age 6
  • Forward facing or convertible seat until age 5 or 40lbs
  • Rear-facing seat until age or 20lbs

Alaska

  • Booster or car seat ages 4-8 if less than 57", weighing 20 to 65lbs
  • Child restraint device ages 1-5 and over 20lbs
  • Rear-facing child safety seat under age one and less than 20lbs

Arizona

  • Booster seat ages 5-8 and 57 in or less
  • Child restraint system under age 5

Arkansas

  • Seat belt ages 6 until 15 or at least 60lbs
  • Child restraint systems under age 6 and under 60lbs

California

  • Child restraint system under age 8 and under 57”
  • Rear-facing child restraint system under age 2, under 40lbs, or under 40”

Colorado

  • Forward facing car seat or booster until age 8
  • Child restraint system until age 4 and 40lbs
  • Rear-facing child restraint system until age 1 and 20lbs

Connecticut

  • Child restraint until age 8 and 60lbs
  • Harness restraint until age 4 and 40lbs
  • Rear-facing child restraint until age 2 and 30lbs

Delaware

  • Child safety seat or booster seat until age 8 and 66lbs
  • Must meet federal motor vehicle safety standards for weight and height

District of Columbia

  • Child restraint until age 8

Florida

  • Child restraint until age 6

Georgia

  • Child restraint until age 8, 4 ft 9 in
  • Installed and being used under the manufacturer’s directions

Hawaii

  • Child safety seat or booster seat ages 4 to 8 unless over 4' 9" or 40lbs
  • Child passenger restraint system until age 4

Idaho

  • Child safety restraint until age 7

Illinois

  • Child restraint system until age 8

Indiana

  • Child restraint system until age 8
  • Properly restrained in according to the manufacturer’s instructions

Iowa

  • Child restraint until age 6
  • Rear-facing safety seat until age 1 and 20lbs

Kansas

  • Child passenger safety restraint system or booster seat ages 4 to 8, less than 80lbs, or less than 4' 9"
  • Child restraint system until age 4

Kentucky

  • Booster seat until age 8, between 40 and 57"
  • Child restraint system until 40" tall

Louisiana

  • Booster or seat belt ages 6 to 13 or 60lbs
  • Booster seat ages 4-5 or 40-60lbs
  • Forward-facing child safety seat ages 1 to 4 or 20-40lbs
  • Rear-facing until age 1 and 20lbs 

Maine

  • Booster or child safety seat under age 8 and 40-80lbs 
  • Child safety seat until 40lbs
  • Properly secured and meet federal standards

Maryland

  • Child safety seat until age 8 or 4 foot 9" tall

Massachusetts

  • Child restraint system until age 8 and less than 4' 9" tall

Michigan

  • Booster or child restraint system until age 8 and 4' 9" 

Minnesota

  • Child restraint until age 8 and 4' 9"

Mississippi

  • Booster seat ages 4 to 6, less than 4' 9" tall, less than 65 pounds
  • Child passenger restraint device until age 4

Missouri

  • Seat belt or booster ages 8-16, 80lbs and over, greater than 4' 9" 
  • Booster ages 4-8 until 4’9” or 80lbs

Montana

  • Child restraint device until age 6 and 60lbs
  • Appropriate for height and weight per manufacturer

Nebraska

  • Child restraint system until age 6

Nevada

  • Child passenger restraint system until age 6

New Hampshire

  • Child passenger restraint system until age 7 and 57" 

New Jersey

  • Child passenger restraint system or booster seat until age 8 and 80lbs
  • Forward facing car seat until age 4 and 40lbs
  • Rear-facing until age 2 and 30lbs

New Mexico

  • Booster seat or child safety seat ages 5 and 6 or less than 60lbs
  • Child passenger restraint device ages 1-4 and less than 40lbs
  • Rear-facing child safety seat until age 1 and 20lbs

New York

  • Booster ages 4-8 or under 4 but over 40lbs
  • Child restraint system until age 4 and 40lbs

North Carolina

  • Child passenger restraint system until age 8 and 80lbs

North Dakota

  • Child restraint system until age 8 and 4' 9"

Ohio

  • Booster age 4 -8 and under 4' 9"
  • Child restraint system until age 4 and 40lbs

Oklahoma

  • Child passenger restraint system or booster seat ages 4-8 and under 4' 9"
  • Child passenger restraint system until age 4
  • Rear-facing until age 2 or height and weight limit reached

Oregon

  • Booster seat 40 lbs and until age 8 and 4’9”
  • Child safety system until 40lbs
  • Rear-facing until age 2 

Pennsylvania

  • Booster ages 4-8
  • Child passenger restraint system until age 4

Rhode Island

  • Child restraint system until age 8, 57” and 80 lbs
  • Rear-facing until age 2 or 30 lbs

South Carolina

  • Belt-positioning booster ages 4-8
  • Forward facing restraint ages 2-4
  • Forward facing with a harness if under two but exceeding weight and height limits
  • Rear-facing restraint until age two until outgrown height and weight limit

South Dakota

  • Child restraint system until age 5 and 40lbs 

Tennessee

  • Booster ages 4-9 and 4' 9" 
  • Child seat ages 1-4 and over 20 lbs
  • Rear-facing child seat until age 1 and 20 lbs

Texas

  • Child passenger safety seat until age 8 and 57”
  • In accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions

Utah

  • Child restraint system until age 8 or 4' 9" tall

Vermont

  • Child passenger restraint system ages 1 to 8 and over 20 lbs
  • Must be federally approved 
  • Rear-facing infant seat until age and 20 lbs

Virginia

  • Child restraint or booster seat until age 8
  • Rear-facing until age 1

Washington

  • Child safety seat until age 8 or 4' 9" or taller
  • Installed according to the vehicle manufacturer and child restraint system

West Virginia

  • Child passenger safety device until age 8 or 4’9”

Wisconsin

  • Rear-facing car seat until age 1 and 20lbs
  • Forward-facing child seat until age 4 or 40lbs
  • Booster seat until age 8, 80lbs, or 4' 9"

Wyoming

  • Child safety restraint system until age 9

Puerto Rico

  • Booster seat ages 4-9 if under 57"
  • Protective car seat until age 4

What Other Things About Car Seat Laws Should Parents Know?

Some terms to know; child restraint child-passenger seat, child safety seat, or child restraint systems are all words used to refer to car seats, booster seats or convertible car seats; check local laws definition to clarify. We did not cover laws about wearing seatbelts which are usually required until at least the teen years, back seat laws or violation penalties. Remember, car seat laws are sometimes outdated. Parents concerned about safety are better off following the AAP guidelines which ensure safety.

Conclusion

Car seat law varies state to state, but all 50 states have some regulations about how children should be restrained while in passenger vehicles. Parents should check their local laws to understand the requirements. The most stringent laws do not exceed safety standards recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. If parents adhere to the AAP guidelines, they will fit within the states car seat laws.