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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.