Car Seat Laws by State (Updated 2018)

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While most people agree that car seats are vital for a child’s safety, many people don’t understand why they are so important. In fact, car seats weren’t even originally designed to protect children in traffic accidents.

When car seats were first manufactured in the early 1930s, their purpose was to act as a booster seat so the driver could see his or her children better.

In the 1930s, a child’s general health was of much more concern than his or her safety in a car.

Because of the Great Depression, many Americans had to go without health care, and many others could not pay for even part of their medical bills.

In the early 1930s, children commonly suffered from pneumonia and diseases, such as influenza, tuberculosis, and syphilis — some of the leading causes of death at that time. Polio was another nationwide issue.

It was not until 1962 that two car seat designs were created with the purpose of protecting a child in the event of a crash.

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Children’s Fatality Rates in Car

Today, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for all children.

There are more cars on the road — driving at faster speeds for longer distances — than ever before.

Child restraints reduce the risk of injury by 71 to 82 percent and reduce the risk of death by 28 percent compared to children wearing only seat belts.

Compared to those only wearing seat belts, booster seats also reduce the risk of nonfatal injury by 45 percent among four through eight-year-olds.

If you want to learn how to ensure your child’s safety in a car and understand your state’s car seat laws, keep reading!

And don’t end up in a car accident without car insurance. Compare rates now for FREE!

Car Seat Laws by State

Now consider taking these extra steps to ensure your child’s safety in your vehicle:

  • Receive a car seat installation lesson in person and have your car seat inspected by a professional. You can click this link to locate a car seat inspection station near you.
  • Register your car seat to make sure it meets current safety regulations.
  • Add yourself to the NHTSA recall notification system to be informed of any recalls on front-facing, rear-facing, and booster car seats. If you find your car seat is recalled, call NHTSA’s toll-free Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236.

Also, you should avoid using a car seat after an accident. The NHTSA recommends discontinuing use after a moderate to severe crash. For more information on what constitutes moderate to severe, check out this guide.

When in doubt, get a new car seat. Your child’s safety is worth it!

Types of Child Safety Restraints

There are three major types of car seats that parents and caregivers use based on their child’s age and size. If you’re interested in learning more about installing a car seat, you can watch these video tutorials and Buckle Up for Life’s installation videos.

Also, many manufacturers have videos for installation of their car seats, so make sure to research your model.

Review the NHTSA’s ease-of-use rating for more information.

– Rear-Facing Seats | Birth to Three-Years-Old

Rear-facing seats are by far the safest option for a young child’s car seat.

The rear-facing position should be used AT LEAST until the child weighs over 20 pounds and is one-year-old. However, some states require a child to be in a rear-facing seat until they weigh 40 pounds and are two-years-old.

– How to Install a Rear-Facing Only Infant Car Seat (>Instructions)

– How to Install a Convertible Car Seat Rear-Facing (Instructions)

– How to Install an All-in-One Car Seat Rear-Facing (Instructions)

– Forward-Facing Seats | One to Seven Years Old

In many states, after turning one and weighing 20 pounds, children can legally travel in forward-facing seats, but that doesn’t mean it is the safest option.

And, new state laws actually don’t make it legal for children to ride in forward facing seats until they reach age two and weigh at least 30 pounds.

– How to Install a Convertible Car Seat Forward-Facing (Instructions)

– How to Install a Combination Car Seat Forward-Facing (Instructions)

– How to Install an All-in-One Car Seat Forward-Facing (Instructions)

– Booster Seats | Four to 12 Years Old

By law (in Canada and most of the U.S.), children must be restrained in a rear or forward-facing car seat until they are at least four-years-old and weigh 40 pounds. After the requirements are met, they can move into a booster seat.

Booster seats are recommended for children until they are big enough to properly use a seat belt. The two types of booster seats are:

  • High-back booster seats
  • Backless booster seats

The major differences between the backless and high-back booster seats are head support and improved protection in side-impact collisions. Vehicles with bench seating and no headrest are required to use a high-back booster.

Booster seats elevate the child so that the shoulder belt rests appropriately on the shoulder blade and does not ride up the child’s neck.

It also provides “hips” that the seat belt can rest securely across and remain on the large bones of the child instead of resting across the soft tissue of the abdomen.

The booster seat is available for children over 40 pounds and up to 100 pounds.

Child safety seats should only be used in the back seats of the vehicle.

The front passenger seat and front air bags are not designed to protect a smaller child in a crash. The front air bags deploying could severely injure a child even in just a minor crash.

– Regular Seat Belt | Eight to 12 Years Old

The laws vary by state, but in most parts of the U.S., once a child reaches the age of 8, a weight of 80 pounds, and a height of 57 inches, he or she is legally allowed to graduate out of the booster seat to just being buckled by an adult seat belt.

The seat belt should fit across the upper thigh of the child and not their stomachs.

Early graduation from a booster seat to an adult seat belt can risk serious damage to vital organs in the event of a crash.

The seat belt must never run across a child’s face or neck. Falling on this part of their body could cause life-threatening injuries.

It is suggested that the child remains in the back seat until he or she has reached 13 years of age, and some states have specific age requirements where children must be seated in rear seats only.


Here are the strictest rear-facing seat requirements across America:

  • California – under the age of two, under 40 pounds, and under 40 inches tall
  • Connecticut, New Jersey & Rhode Island – under the age of two or under 30 pounds

9 states: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York (effective 11/01/2019), Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina all require children younger than two be in a rear-facing child seat.

New Hampshire is the only state to have no seat belt law in place. However, it does have a primary child passenger safety law that covers all drivers and passengers under 18.

Even the most lenient state for seat belts has child passenger laws:

  • Child Car Seat Required: Under seven-year-old and 57 inches tall or shorter
  • Adult Safety Belt Permissible: 7-17 years old. Under seven years if 57″ or taller.
  • Maximum Fine for 1st Offense: $50

Of the 50 U.S. states, 23 implement a very low fee of $50 or less for breaking car seat or seat belt laws, while some states such as Nevada penalize drivers with fines as high as $500 for breaking these laws.

Seven states have only a secondary law in effect for child safety restraints and seat belts.

A secondary law classification means that  police must have pulled over the driver for an additional reason (secondary reason), whereas a primary law allows a police officer to stop vehicles based solely on a child safety seat or seat belt violations.

Surprisingly, 33 states have no specific laws in place that require children to be in the back seat until a certain age, weight, or height.

Car Seats are Necessary

It is abundantly clear that car seats are important for a child’s safety and well-being. In 2004, car seats saved 451 lives in the U.S. alone. Additionally, data from the NHTSA points to a 67 percent reduction in the risk of serious injuries when parents put their children in well-fitted car seats.

Aside from it being the law, you as a parent should take the initiative to find the best car seat for your child’s needs and learn how to install it properly.

Complete Details: Car Seat Laws

– To sort the table by category, click on header columns.

– Click here for the full stats and sources for each category. For all media inquiries, please email: Josh Barnes

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