If you’re an expecting parent, new parent, or grandparent, you might be wondering about West Virginia car seat laws. Car seat laws can be confusing, and they differ from state to state.
Knowing the car seat laws in West Virginia will help you avoid potential penalties. More importantly, it will help you keep your child or grandchild safe!
Car Seat Laws in West Virginia: The Basics
WV seat belt laws come from West Virginia Code §17-15-49, and their child passenger safety laws come from §17-15-46. Both sections of the law have pertinent information for drivers and their precious young passengers.
Article 15-49 states that the vehicle’s driver, front-seat passengers, and all passengers under eighteen must wear a safety belt that meets federal motor vehicle safety standards.
Article 15-46 further specifies that all drivers place, maintain, and secure any passengers under the age of eight in a child passenger safety device system. The safety device system, typically a car seat or booster seat, must meet federal motor vehicle safety standards.
There is an exception to article 15-46 for children who are 4’9″ or taller. A child taller than 4’9″, even under the age of eight, may ride as a passenger with a standard safety belt. They don’t need a booster seat or car seat per West Virginia law.
At 4’9″, the seatbelt should sit across the child’s upper thighs, shoulder, and chest. It shouldn’t sit across the child’s stomach, neck, or face. If the belt hits in any of those places, federal guidelines recommend a booster seat, regardless of the child’s height.
Which Car Seats to Use When
West Virginia’s car seat law is straightforward. There aren’t specific WV booster seat laws or infant seat laws. However, there are federal guidelines that the West Virginia Governer’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) promotes.
Infant (Rear-Facing) Seats
Infant seats should be rear-facing and typically accommodate a child up to 35 pounds. Though several states have passed laws that state children must sit in a rear-facing seat until the age of two, federal guidelines suggest using a rear-facing seat as long as possible. Rear-facing seats are safer for babies and toddlers as long as the child is below the manufacturer’s weight requirement.
There are different types of rear-facing car seats available. Genuine rear-facing car seats only face the back of the car, and most children outgrow them by two or three years old.
Convertible car seats are available, as well. Convertible seats can face either direction, forward or rear, and usually have higher weight and height limits. The higher weight and height limits allow you to keep your child in a rear-facing seat for a longer period.
Forward Facing Seats
Once your child outgrows their rear-facing seat, they’re ready for a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. Typically forward-facing seats have a 5-point harness system to keep your child safe.
Many car seats come with the option to remove the harness, which turns the seat into a booster seat. You should avoid removing the harness, however, until your child weighs at least forty pounds.
Typically, forward-facing seats are best for children ages 2-4. However, you should follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for your specific car seat and keep your child in it until they reach the height and weight limits.
There is no law in West Virginia regarding booster seats for children. However, federal guidelines state that once your child is at least forty pounds, they can (and should) ride in a booster seat rather than a car seat with a harness and tether.
You can turn most forward-facing car seats into booster seats by removing the harness, but check your manufacturer’s instructions to be sure. A car seat that you’ve converted to a booster seat will have head and neck padding, which can make things more comfortable for your toddler.
However, there are backless booster seats available as well, and either option works. If you use a backless booster seat, ensure your child’s ears are not taller than your vehicle’s back seat.
Once your child is over 4’9″ or over the age of eight, they no longer need a car seat of any type per West Virginia law. That said, federal guidelines suggest keeping your child in a booster seat until they grow out of it. Many booster seats can accommodate a child up to 59 inches or until they’re 4’11”.
Though they tend to be a little more expensive upfront, an all-in-one seat is the best option for many parents. You can set all-in-one seats as rear-facing, front-facing, or booster seats. They will “grow up” with your child.
If you’re using an all-in-one seat, the manufacturer should provide weight and height guidelines for when to transition the seat. Those guidelines should line up with the federal suggestions outlined above.
Penalties for Failure to Comply
It’s essential to follow child passenger laws both for your child’s safety and to avoid legal troubles. In West Virginia, failure to follow car seat laws results in a misdemeanor.
On top of that, any person convicted of violating child passenger safety laws is subject to a fine. The fine is reasonable at $10 to $20.
Still, the risk of driving with a child passenger who’s not in a safety seat is substantial. Installing the right car seat or booster seat is vital to protect your child in the event of an accident. No fine, reasonable or not, is a better incentive than that!
Common Questions on West Virginia Car Seat Laws
West Virginia child passenger safety laws are simple, but they can still leave parents scratching their heads. Below are a few of the most common car seat law questions from West Virginia parents.
West Virginia law simply states that children under the age of eight and under 4’9″ must use a safety seat. The law does not specify what type of seat a child should use when.
Federal guidelines and West Virginia’s GHSP guidelines suggest using a booster seat once your child is over forty pounds, usually around the age of four years old.
Per West Virginia law, your child can sit up front at eight years old or whenever they reach 4’9″ in height. However, the back seat is safer than the front seat of any car. So, federal guidelines suggest that children ride in the back seat until they’re at least twelve years old.
Often, it’s most convenient for parents to place car seats in the middle backseat. There’s nothing wrong with that position if your car accommodates it. If your vehicle has an uneven middle backseat, it may be challenging to install a car seat there. In that case, either the driver or passenger-side backseat will suffice.
West Virginia car seat laws are straightforward and easy to follow. If your child is under eight years old and under 4’9″ in height, they need to ride in a safety seat of some type.
Though the law doesn’t specify types of seats by age or weight, federal guidelines do. Following safety guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and West Virginia’s GHSP won’t just keep you out of trouble with the law; it’ll keep your children safe!