South Dakota consistently ranks as one of the lowest seat belt usage states in the country, as only 26% of front-seat passengers and drivers choose to buckle up.
Because of this frightening statistic, the government has implemented numerous South Dakota seat belt laws, including a child safety seat distribution program, to keep children safe while on the road.
Keep reading to find out more about South Dakota car seat laws.
South Dakota Car Seat Laws: General Information
Chapter 32-37 of South Dakota law outlines the laws, exemptions, and penalties surrounding SD car seat laws. The law explains the car seat usage guidelines for children under the age of five and those under 18.
Children Under Five
South Dakota doesn’t have many specifications for what type of car seat you need to use, but it does have one significant law. Anyone in the state transporting a child under five years old must adequately secure the child in a safety seat.
If your child is under five but weighs over 40 pounds, you are adhering to the law by fastening them in a seat belt. However, children under eight don’t have fully developed bones that allow them to wear a seatbelt correctly. Even if your child is over 40 pounds, consider keeping them in a car seat until they’re eight years old.
As stated above, South Dakota doesn’t outline specific types of car seats to use. Still, they must meet the Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, a federal requirement for child restraint systems.
Children Over Five
South Dakota’s child passenger restraint system law outlines guidelines for children over five and under 18. According to law 32-37, anyone operating a passenger vehicle must ensure that all passengers between the ages of five and 18 are wearing a seat belt anytime the car moves.
The state recommends keeping your child in the back seat until they’re 12 years old, particularly the rear-middle seat – the safest spot in the car.
South Dakota Car Seat Recommendations
The South Dakota government recommends keeping your child in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible, at least until they’re two years old.
The South Dakota Department of Social Services put out recommendations for types of car seats to use for children of various ages.
|0-1 Years (Infants)||Rear-facing|
|1-3 Years (Toddlers)||Rear-facing as long as possible; front-facing with a harness when child grows out of rear-facing seat|
|4-7 Years (Young Children)||Forward-facing as long as possible; booster seat in the back when child grows out of front-facing seat|
|8-12 Years||Booster seat until it’s safe to properly use a seat belt; child should remain in the back seat until 18 years|
Rear-Facing Car Seats
In case of a crash, rear-facing seats reduce stress on children’s spinal cords and necks. There are three common types of rear-facing car seats:
- Infant Car Seat: Rear-facing only seat that infants grow out of after a year
- Convertible Seat: Changes from a rear-facing to a front-facing seat as the child grows and lets the child stay in a rear-facing position longer
- All-in-One: Can change from a rear- to a front-facing to a booster seat and also enables the child to remain in a rear-facing position longer
Forward-Facing Car Seats
When your child grows out of a rear-facing car seat, a front-facing car seat features a harness that limits your child’s movement, keeping them safe in the event of an accident. There are three types of forward-facing car seats:
- Convertible Seat: Changes from the rear- to front-facing as the child grows
- Combination Seat: Changes from front-facing to a booster seat with a harness and tether
- All-in-One: Changes from the rear- to front-facing and a booster seat
Booster seats are ideal for children who won’t fit into forward-facing car seats but can’t quite wear a seat belt properly. A booster seat raises your child’s height while sitting so that the seat belt can fit over their hips and shoulder correctly. There are several types of booster seats to choose from:
- Booster Seat with a High Back: Provides head and neck support and works best for cars without headrests
- Backless: Ideal for vehicles with headrests or high seatbacks
- Combination Seat: Changes from a front-facing to a booster seat
- All-in-One: Changes from a rear- to a front-facing seat to a booster seat
Possible Penalties for Not Complying
In South Dakota, not correctly restraining a child in a car seat is a primary offense. The police can stop the driver for not complying with SD car seat laws without any other traffic violation. Since the drive is responsible for the safety of all passengers under 18, they can receive a ticket.
South Dakota Seat Belt Laws Exemptions
There are only two exemptions to any seat belt law in South Dakota, as stated in law 32-37-2. You’re exempt from these laws if your car was manufactured before 1966 and doesn’t have any seat belts.
The other exemption is for someone who has a physician’s letter stating that they can’t wear a seat belt for medical reasons. Otherwise, everyone in South Dakota must adhere to the above rules.
Child Safety Seat Distribution Program
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shows that car accidents are a leading cause of death for children under 14 years old. Using a car seat and properly securing your child inside it is vital in protecting them.
To help encourage safety while on the road, South Dakota implemented its Child Safety Seat Distribution Program. This initiative provides car seats to eligible families at no cost. Families who qualify with a financial need or have children with special needs can get adequately fitting safety seats for their children until they grow to 4’9’’.
The program distributes rear-facing, front-facing, and booster seats. There are five programs representing five districts in the state. If you think you might qualify for South Dakota’s Child Safety Seat Distribution Program, find the proper organization for your area.
More Information on Car Seat Best Practices
Unlike other states with more complex rules and exemptions, South Dakota’s car seat laws are relatively straightforward and easy to understand. The bottom line is that you should put your child in a car seat and keep them in the back seat as long as possible. If you don’t, you could face a fine.
There are additional ways to keep your child safe while on the road than adhering to South Dakota car seat laws. When you buy a new car seat, you can register it with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to get notifications in case of recalls or other malfunctions. Registering your car seat ensures you have the safest seat possible for your child.