Motor vehicle accidents remain a leading cause of death and injury for children. Sadly, many of the injuries and fatalities were preventable with a proper car seat or booster.
Choosing to use a safety seat is the best way to keep your child safe in a vehicle. It is also the law in California.
Depending on your child’s age, height, and weight, different parts of the California car seat laws apply. Read on to learn more about the types of infant and child car seats and what California requires you to use when transporting a child.
What are CA Car Seat Laws?
The car seat laws California follows have different provisions based on the age, height, and weight of the child. Understanding each tier is essential for the safety of your child.
Requirements for Infants and Toddlers
Infants and toddlers fall under the California rear facing car seat law. Unless a child weighs more than 40 pounds or stands more than 40 inches tall, they must ride in a rear-facing car seat until at least age two.
In California, the law also states that you need to secure your child per the specifications set forth by the manufacturer of your car seat.
Car Seat Rules for Young Children
Once your child turns two or weighs 40 pounds or stands 40 inches, they can graduate to a larger car seat or booster seat. The car seat laws in California state that a child under the age of 8 must sit in a safety seat in the vehicle’s back seat.
Though not required under law, it is safest to buckle your child’s car seat into the middle position of the back seat whenever possible. The middle of the back seat is the safest position in the car.
When Can My Child Use a Booster Seat?
Under California car seat law, there are no specific criteria for moving into a booster seat from a car seat with a five-point harness. That said, your child can move into a booster seat when they surpass the maximum height or weight set forth by the current car seat’s manufacturer.
While California law doesn’t set specific criteria, the State Highway Patrol advises you to keep your child in each stage of a safety seat as long as possible. It’s also important to note that children still require a seat belt whether they use a car seat, booster seat, or no safety seat.
When Do Kids Outgrow Car Seats?
As noted above, California law doesn’t dictate when you can move your child into a booster seat or out of a booster seat. However, it is noted that a good rule of thumb for getting rid of the booster seat is a height of 57 inches.
Remember, seat belts were made for adults and fit children poorly. If a seat belt cuts your child above or below the center of their chest, it can cause damage to their stomach, spinal cord, neck, or hips.
Technically, children over eight can use just a seat belt. However, before moving away from the safety seats, you may want to make sure that your child can pass the five-step test.
- Is your child able to sit with their back against the seat back?
- Can your child comfortably bend their knees at the edge of the seat?
- Does the seat belt run across the middle of their chest?
- Is the lap belt low enough that it touches their thighs?
- Can your child sit comfortably and maintain the above four criteria for the entire trip?
When Can My Child Sit in the Front Seat?
California law says that children who are eight years of age or younger must ride in a rear seat barring certain circumstances, like no rear seating. However, it is suggested that children not ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle until at least age thirteen.
Penalties for Failure to Obey Car Seat Laws in California
In California, there are two penalties for drivers charged with failing to obey the car seat laws. By using an appropriate car seat or booster, you don’t just keep your child safe; you can avoid the legal repercussions.
- Fines start at $100 for the first violation and an additional $250 for any subsequent violations. Note that these are just the “base” rates, and you can expect additional fees and penalties attached.
- You also get one point on your DMV driving record.
Why Does California Have Car Seat Laws?
In 2018, more than 600 children under the age of twelve died in motor vehicle accidents, and another 97,000 suffered injuries. Of those who died, more than a third weren’t buckled in. Car seats and boosters make a huge difference in the lives of children. They remain the best chance at limiting casualties and injuries due to motor vehicle accidents.
Types of Infant and Child Car Seats
Choosing the right car seat for your child may seem overwhelming, especially with so many options to choose from, but they are necessary in California. Before we address the state’s car seat laws, it helps to understand the terminology and how the seats differ.
Three Types of Infant Car Seats
Deciding on an infant car seat can be challenging because you have the most variety. There are multiple manufacturers and designs to choose from, but the biggest decision to make is which type of seat to use.
- Rear-facing-only infant car seats latch into a base that you secure in your car. They only accommodate newborns and infants under a certain weight and height, but they double as carriers that often attach to strollers, shopping carts, and more.
- A convertible car seat is more versatile because it starts as a rear-facing car seat for your infant until they are ready for a front-facing car seat. Note that smaller infants may not fit well in convertible car seats as they tend to be larger.
- All-in-one seats are the most versatile option, but they tend to be the biggest. However, all-in-one systems take your child from rear-facing to front-facing to booster seat with just a few adjustments.
Rear-Facing vs. Front-Facing Car Seats
Two of the terms used frequently are rear-facing and front-facing. Much as they sound, rear-facing seats turn your child toward the back of the car. Don’t worry, you can put a mirror on the backseat so that you can see your child through your rearview mirror. Front-facing seats allow your child to look out the front of the vehicle.
What About Booster Seats?
When your child is too large to fit in a car seat but not tall enough to use an adult seat belt, you can get a booster seat. The booster seat raises your child off the seat enough to use the vehicle’s seat belt safely. There are high-backed booster seats with a little extra padding and head cushions or just a booster seat with armrests.
Seat belts exist to keep us safe in motor vehicles, but they don’t work for young children. Thankfully, there are safety seats to secure your child at every stage of development and protect them from harm in the event of a motor vehicle accident.
California’s car seat laws don’t exist to punish; they exist to protect children.