California car seat laws requires either a car seat or regular seatbelts for every driver and passenger in a moving vehicle. There are a few exceptions to these rules, but they are few and far between. The state also recognizes that babies and children “graduate” from one type of car seat to another at different ages, and recommends that all children be kept in their current car seat for as long as possible.
All children under the age of eight have to be in either a car seat or a booster seat, and they must be in the back seat of the vehicle, not the front seat. This is especially important if the front seat contains any type of airbag.
Laws for Rear-Facing Car Seats
In California, babies must be kept in a rear-facing car seat until they are two years old, unless they have reached 40 lbs. or are 40 inches tall or taller. Parents should also pay close attention to the requirements set forth by the manufacturer of the car seat because each one is different and has different age and weight requirements needed to move up to the next type of seat.
One of the reasons for a rear-facing car seat is that in the event of a crash, this position is better able to handle the impact and protect the baby’s head, neck, spine, and shoulders better. It distributes the force from the crash across the child’s body in a more even fashion, meaning there is less likelihood of trauma from the accident. The American Academy of Pediatrics has been recommending keeping babies two years old and under in a rear-facing car seat for some time, which is why more and more states are changing their laws to reflect this recommendation.
Remember also to always place a rear-facing car seat in the back seat. These types of car seats keep babies and toddlers, especially infants, five times safer than keeping them in front-facing or booster car seats, mainly because they protect the head and shoulder area much better during a crash. You should also make sure the shoulder straps are placed at or below the child’s shoulders.
Laws for Front-Facing Car Seats
Once a child reaches two years of age or 40 lbs., or he or she is at least 40 inches tall, a front-facing car seat can be used. The age requirement was changed in January of 2017 and reflects the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The car seats come in three different models, including:
- A convertible car seat, which can be used to face either the front or the rear of the vehicle
- A combination car seat, which is used as either a front-facing car seat or a booster seat
- Safety harnesses, which are alternatives to booster seats
The convertible car seats do a great job accommodating growing children, while the combination car seats can be adapted even further. With the latter, you must make sure the harness straps are at or above the child’s shoulders. In addition, the labels on safety harnesses should always be checked to make sure they meet the standards set forth by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Laws for Booster Seats
For older children, a backless or high-back booster seat must be used until they are at least 4’9” tall or until they reach eight years of age. Both of these types of booster seats are made for the child to sit at a high enough angle so that standard seatbelts fit properly and comfortably to make the child secure. If the seatbelts don’t fit over the booster seat properly and the child is not secure enough, it could be that you have an older booster seat that should no longer be used.
Height and Weight Requirements
There are few height and weight requirements under California law for babies, toddlers, and young children and their car seats, but here is a quick recap of the ones they do have:
- Babies 2 years old and under: a rear-facing car seat is needed
- Child over 40 lbs.: a front-facing car seat is allowable
- Child over 40 inches in height: either a front-facing or booster seat is required
- Child over 8 years of age and taller than 4’9”: regular seatbelts are allowable
Once a child is passed his or her eighth birthday, a standard adult-sized seatbelt is allowed. However, children need to be able to sit all the way back in the seat of the vehicle, sit with their knees comfortably bent over the edge of the seat, and sit this way for extended periods of time. in addition, the shoulder portion of the seatbelt should lay across the chest and collar bone snugly, and the lap belt must fit low on the hips and across the thigh area. If any of these rules do not apply to your child, he or she is not yet ready for standard seatbelts and should go back to being secured in a booster seat.
Laws for Seat Belts
California car seat laws are clear on the use of seatbelts. All drivers and passengers in a moving vehicle are required to be in either a car seat or seatbelts the entire time. In addition, no child under the age of 13 should be in the front seat of the vehicle, especially if it has an airbag. With car seats, the height and weight recommendations provided by the seat’s manufacturer should be strictly followed, because otherwise the baby or toddler may not be as safe as possible during the ride.
Some exceptions do apply, including taxicabs (although seat belts are still required for those in the front seat), newspaper delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, or any other vehicles that are driven by people who are in and out of their vehicles all day performing their job duties. Otherwise, if you’re caught not wearing a seatbelt, or if your child is not in an appropriate car seat, the fine for the first offense is $20, while future offenses will be $50 each The driver of a vehicle can also get fined if someone under the age of 16 is not wearing any type of seatbelt.