Car accidents are the nation’s leading cause of death and disability for children. One-third of children killed in car accidents weren’t properly restrained in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt. When used correctly, car seats reduce infant fatalities by 71%. Kentucky booster seat laws apply to vehicles operating on Kentucky public roadways that were built after 1981.
Kentucky takes protecting children riding in vehicles seriously. While Kentucky seat belt law requires all car passengers use a seat belt, the state has special regulations for child passengers. The state applies different rules depending on the child’s age, weight, and height.
Car Seats for Newborns and Infants
All drivers transporting children on Kentucky’s highways, roadways, or streets must secure them in a car seat that meets federal safety standards. Kentucky law mandates that all children under one year old must or weighing less than 20 pounds be transported in rear-facing car seats in the vehicle’s back seat.
Although Kentucky doesn’t require drivers to continue transporting children in rear-facing seats once they reach the age and weight requirements, it recommends using these seats until the child weighs at least 30 pounds or is two years old.
If the driver uses a convertible car seat, the state recommends keeping them in the rear-facing position until they reach the maximum weight limit for the rear-facing position.
Car Seats for Toddlers and Small Children
Once children are at least one year old and weigh at least 20lbs, they can graduate to riding in forward-facing car seats placed in the car’s back seat. They should continue to ride in these seats until they are at least 5-years old and reach the maximum weight limit for the car seat being used.
Kentucky law mandates that drivers restrain all children measuring 40-inches or less in car seats that meet federal safety standards.
Booster Seats for Older Children
When children outgrow front-facing child seats, they are ready to use belt-positioning booster seats. Kentucky law requires drivers to restrain children between 40-inches and 57-inches and eight years old or younger in a booster seat.
Booster seats differ from car seats in that their purpose is to elevate children above the car seat to ensure the proper fit of the car’s built-in lap and shoulder seat belts. Drivers should pay special attention to how the seat belt fits the child in the booster seat.
A properly fitting seat belt should lay securely across the child’s upper thighs, not the child’s stomach; the shoulder strap should lay securely across the child’s neck and not their shoulders. Booster seats should be used in the vehicle’s back seat.
Kentucky’s Department of Transportation recommends asking the following questions to determine if it’s safe for your child to ride in the car’s seat belt.
- Can your child sit straight against the back of the vehicle seat?
- Can your child’s legs bend at the knee on the edge of the vehicle seat?
- Can your child sit comfortably in the vehicle seat without slouching?
- Does the lap portion of the seat belt sit down on your child’s hips, touching the thighs?
- Does the shoulder belt stay at the center of your child’s shoulder, crossing the collarbone?
Answering yes to all of the questions above means your child is ready to use a seat belt.
When Can Children Sit in the Front Seat?
Under Kentucky car seat laws, once children are 57-inches in height or taller, they no longer need to ride in a child booster seat. Although the law does not explicitly say when children can begin riding in the car’s front seat, Kentucky State Police and the Centers for Disease Control recommend children continue riding in the back seat until they are at least 12 years old.
Children are at a greater risk for injury or death when riding in the front seat, and you should never install car seats in the front seat. Car manufacturers design airbags for average-sized adults and could result in serious injury or death to small children riding in the front seat. The back seat is the safest place for children.
Penalties for Failing to Comply With Kentucky Car Seat Laws
Anyone traveling in a car made after 1981 must wear a seat belt. Penalties for failing to restrain a child in a car or booster seat vary based on the child’s height.
- There’s a $50 fine or driver’s license points but no court costs for failure to secure a child 40-inches or shorter in a child seat.
- There’s a $40 fine or driver’s license points but no driver’s license points or court costs for failing to secure children between 40 and 57-inches in a booster seat. Drivers can avoid conviction for a first offense by acquiring and installing a booster seat.
- There’s a $25 fine for failing to buckle up at any age on Kentucky roads.
Kentucky car seat laws do not consider failure to restrain a child in a car seat contributory negligence. Failure to use a child seat or booster cannot be used as evidence against a person in a trial or civil action.
Kentucky car seat laws define motor vehicles as all vehicles designed to transport 15 or fewer passengers. The law excludes motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, and farm trucks registered for agricultural use that weigh one ton or more.
KY car seat laws exclude people who have a written statement from a doctor, licensed chiropractor, or advanced practice registered nurse saying a medical or physical condition prevents them from wearing a seat belt.
Which Child Restraint Should I Use?
Given the options available, choosing the best child restraint for your child can be overwhelming. Your child’s age, weight, and height will determine which child seat is most appropriate for the stage of development.
The Kentucky Department of Transportation recommends following these criteria when choosing a car seat for your child.
Rear-facing Car Seat
Drivers should secure newborns in rear-facing car seats. Rear-facing car seats protect infants from head and spine injuries in a car crash. Drivers must secure infants in rear-facing car seats until they’re at least one year old and weigh a minimum of 20 pounds.
A best practice is securing infants in rear-facing car seats until they weigh 30 pounds or outgrow the maximum weight limit of the car seat.
Convertible Car Seat
These car seats can be used in rear-facing and forward-facing positions, adapting to your baby’s needs as they grow. Use these car seats in the forward-facing position once your child is old enough and weighs enough to face forward in the car seat. Use the car seat in the forward-facing position until the child is ready for a booster seat.
Forward Facing Car Seat with Harness
Forward-facing car seats are for children who are at least one year old who weigh more than twenty pounds. Children should use this car seat until they have outgrown the harness slots or reached the seat’s maximum weight limit.
Once children have outgrown forward-facing car seats, they’re ready to ride in a booster seat. Use booster seats with children under eight years old and less than 57-inches tall. A best practice is waiting until a child weighs 40 pounds before using a booster seat. Booster seats must be used with a lap and shoulder seat belt.
Securing your child in a car or booster seat is the best way to protect them from injury or death in the event of a car accident. Car seats absorb the crash forces generated during a car accident, keeping children safe. Drivers should ensure they properly secure children riding with them whenever they are on the road.