Car Seat Laws & Guidelines
- All children should be in an appropriate car seat or booster seat until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall and 80-100 pounds. Most children will reach these limits between 8-12 years of age.
- Children 12 years of age and under must remain in the back seat of the car at all times.
- Infant style car seats are best for small infants and are usually usable from 4-5 pounds (birth-weight) until 20-22 pounds. Different manufacturers have different guidelines, so please use this only as a general idea and CHECK YOUR CAR SEAT MANUAL for actual guidelines.
- Infant style car seats come with a choice of a three point harness or a five point harness. Both are said to protect similarly in a crash, but most experts agree that the five point harness offers better protection. Go with the five point harness, if possible, for better safety and peace of mind.
- Convertible car seats come in a few different varieties, including five point convertibles, t-shield convertibles, and overhead shield convertibles. The five point convertible is generally thought to be the safest option. They usually can be used rear facing from birth to 20-22 pounds and forward facing from 20 pounds to 40-65 pounds depending on the model.
- Federal law says that children must remain rear facing until age one AND 20 pounds as a minimum. New rear facing guidelines recommend rear facing your child until two years of age. Because of these new recommendations, some convertible seats are now able to be used in a rear facing position until much higher weights. Check your model for manufacturers guidelines and limits regarding weight/height recommendations.
- The guidelines for booster seats are usually age four, and 40 pounds or more. However, if your child can still ride safely in his/her convertible seat, that is the best option. From car-safety.org : " If a child's shoulders are above the level of the top slots in their regular car seat, or the tops of their ears are above the top of the shell, then they may be able to move to a booster or another forward-facing seat which accommodates taller children. Usually a child can be moved to a booster when they are too big for a harnessed car seat, and once they are able to sit properly in a seat belt."
- When your child is using a booster seat, the seat belt must be used properly. Do not put the shoulder belt under their arm or behind their back. Also, make sure the lap belt rests across their hips, not the soft part of their stomach. You must use both the lap belt and the shoulder belt with a booster seat.
- Owners of pickup trucks that don't have an extended cab or in which the extended cab is too small or incompatible with a child safety seat can legally have their child's car seat in the front seat of the truck. However, the passenger air bag must be turned OFF when there are children riding in the front of the truck.
- Your child is ready to use a seat belt without a booster seat when they can pass the Safety Belt Fit Test.
The Safety Belt Fit Test [from safekids.org]
- Have your child sit in a back seat with their bottom and back against the vehicle’s seat back. Do the child’s knees bend at the seat’s edge? If yes, go on. If not, the child must stay in a booster seat.
- Buckle the seat belt. Does the lap belt stay low on the hips? If yes, go on. If it rests on the soft part of the stomach, the child must stay in a booster seat.
- Look at the shoulder belt. Does it lay on the collarbone and shoulder? If yes, go on. If it is on the face or neck, the child must remain in a booster seat.
- Never put the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind the child’s back. Do not allow children to play with the shoulder portion of a seat belt. Treat it like any cord.
- Can the child maintain the correct seating position with the shoulder belt on the shoulder and the lap belt low across the hips? If yes, the child has passed the Safety Belt Fit Test. If no, the child should return to a booster seat and re-test in a month.