Did you know that using car seats the right way can reduce the risk of child death by as much as 71 percent?
Sadly, car accidents are a leading cause of death and injury to children in the U.S. But simply following the rules of the road and laws in your state can make all the difference in protecting your child!
Every state has specific laws about child restraints in vehicles and which car seats to use for different age ranges. Rhode Island has common-sense laws and a parent-friendly and safety-friendly system.
In this article, we’ll review Rhode Island car seat laws, penalties for noncompliance, and frequently asked questions on the topic.
Rhode Island Car Seat Laws by Age
Rhode Island’s rate of vehicle injuries and fatalities is higher than in other states, in some part due to improper seat belt use. So it’s essential to understand the laws and follow them.
Like most other states, the child’s age is the basis for all RI car seat laws, which will take height, and weight into consideration. Most car seat manufacturers also advise when a child grows out of their car seat or needs a new type. Pay close attention to the manufacturer’s guidelines, especially on proper car seat installation.
Here are the Rhode Island seat belt laws for specific age ranges.
Children Younger Than 2 Years Old
If your child is under two years of age – or weighs less than 30 pounds—you must buckle them into a rear-facing car seat with a harness. The rear-facing car seat must be installed correctly in the car’s back seat, meaning any seat behind the driver and passenger seat.
You can also use a rear-facing infant-only seat. Children should continue to ride in rear-facing car seats until they are either two years old or over 30 pounds, whichever comes first.
Children Ages 2-8 Years Old
Children who are two years old or older and who have outgrown their rear-facing car seat must sit in a forward-facing car seat approved by the US Department of Transportation. To outgrow the rear-facing seat, your child must be over 30 pounds.
You must install the car seat correctly in the back seat of the vehicle. You should buckle your child in with the built-in harness on the car seat.
Children under 8 But Over 80 Pounds
If your child is still under eight years old but is over 57 inches tall or weighs 80 pounds or more, you can allow them to sit in any back seat of the car with a regular seat belt. They may not sit in the front seat of the vehicle.
A Note About Booster Seats
If your child is over 80 pounds, she does not have to be secured by a car seat harness. However, some kids still aren’t quite big enough for a regular seatbelt to fit them. In that case, you also have the option to have them sit in a booster seat using the car’s regular seat belt.
If you search for “booster seat laws RI,” you won’t find much specific guidance, but booster seats are optional for kids over 80 pounds.
Children 8 Years Old and Over
You can let children sit in any seat in the car, front or back, for children eight years old and older. However, they must wear a seat belt at all times. It’s the driver’s responsibility to ensure they comply.
Most experts recommend not allowing kids to sit in the front seat until they are at least 13 years old.
Is it Ever Okay to Have a Child in the Front Seat?
In most cases, any children under the age of eight must be seated in the back seat of your car. Rhode Island car seat laws allow any child aged eight or older to sit in the front seat with a seat belt, but experts recommend waiting until a child is 13 years old.
However, Rhode Island does allow two scenarios where you can allow a child under eight years old to be safely restrained in the front seat.
A child can sit in the front seat if:
- Your car doesn’t have a back seat.
- Other children already occupy all the back seats.
Use the guidelines above for age, weight, and height to determine if they should be in a car seat or simply belted in.
Other Exceptions to Seat Belt Laws
Seat belt and car seat rules do not apply in the following situations.
- You are driving a vehicle manufactured before July 1, 1966.
- The driver or passenger has a doctor’s note from a licensed physician stating that they can’t wear a seat belt for a physical or medical reason. Your doctor must renew the letter annually.
- Federal law does not require the vehicle to have a seat belt system. For example, federal law doesn’t require seat belts in emergency vehicles or buses that aren’t school buses.
- You are a postal service worker driving a postal service vehicle during work hours.
In all other situations, Rhode Island law requires seat belts.
What are the Penalties for Failing to Comply with Rhode Island Car Seat Laws?
The fine for a violation of seat belt laws involving a child is $85. Depending on the type of violation, the penalty process may vary.
Violations of a child seat belt or car seat laws do not prove negligence, and they are not admissible as evidence in a civil trial.
Additionally, authorities may not search your car just because of a seat belt violation.
For a Violation Involving Children 8 Years and Under
As we’ve reviewed, in Rhode Island, children eight years and younger must be:
- secured in a rear-facing or front-facing car seat if they are under 80 pounds or 57 inches, OR
- secured by a seat belt in the back seat of your car if they are over 80 pounds.
Violating this law involves a fine of $85.
If you violate this law by not having a car seat, you will be issued a citation. Within seven days of the citation, you must provide proof of purchase for a qualifying child restraint seat within seven days. Give the proof of purchase to the police department that issued the citation. Then the department will void the citation.
If you can’t provide proof of purchase within seven days, you will have to go to traffic court and pay the $85 fine. If you were in violation for more than one child, you must pay $85 per violation. However, the violation won’t go on your driving record.
For a Violation Involving Children 8 Years and Older
As we’ve reviewed, in Rhode Island, children eight years and older must be wearing a seat belt at all times but can sit in the front or back seat of a vehicle.
A fine of $85 will be issued if you violate this law, but you are not required to appear in court. The conviction won’t be recorded on your driving record.
Car seats are an incredible support to family safety and travel. Rhode Island car seat laws apply to all children 18 and under and vary depending on the child’s age, weight, and height.
Ensure you comply with both the Rhode Island seat belt laws and the manufacturer’s guidelines for your specific car seat.
With proper installation and use of car seats, you can rest assured that your family is safe!