In the Iowa car seat laws, all drivers and riders in a moving vehicle must be restrained in either a car seat or a seat belt, and there are few exceptions. If you own a federally approved car seat that is new or fairly new, you can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding height and weight. If you find that the car seat you own has different age and weight recommendations than what is recommended by the state, you can follow the car seat’s recommendations because each car seat is different and the manufacturer will know what the best way is to utilize the car seat.
Laws for Rear-Facing Car Seats
In the Iowa car seat laws, all infants ages 0 to 1 and who weigh 20 pounds or less must be in a rear-facing car seat placed in the rear seat of the vehicle. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently revised this recommendation to state that infants ages 0 to 2 should be in a rear-facing seat, but this is only a recommendation and not a requirement.
In addition, the car seat must meet all federal regulations and consist of a 5-point harness system, as this is the safest way for infants to travel.
Laws for Front-Facing Car Seats
Once a child reaches the age of 2 and a weight of at least 20 pounds, he or she can be placed in a front-facing car seat. Children should remain in this type of car seat until roughly the age of 6, when they can be placed in a booster seat of some type. Again, going by the manufacturer’s recommendations is best, and most manufacturers recommend that babies stay in front-facing car seats until at least the age of 4 and a minimum weight of 40 pounds.
If you abide by the recommendations made by the manufacturer, your child will be safe while riding in the vehicle, and he or she must remain in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt as long as that vehicle is moving.
Laws for Booster Seats
Booster seats must be approved seats and be either backless or full-back, and they have to be secured using a standard seat belt. This includes both the lap belt and shoulder belt – never should you use a seat belt that is only a lap belt. In addition, booster seats are required to be one of the following two types:
- Backless booster seats: these seats should be used only if your vehicle has the proper headrests. Children’s necks and shoulders must be protected in the event of a crash, and this can only happen with proper headrests or with a booster seat that is full-sized and includes head protection.
- Booster seats with headrests: if your vehicle has no headrests or if the headrests are not safe for some reason, your child has to be in a full-sized booster seat that includes headrests. Children can suffer severe injuries if their head and neck aren’t well-protected in an accident.
It should also be noted that children should meet certain requirements to safely ride in a booster seat. These requirements include their ability to sit back against the seat of the vehicle, to place their feet comfortably on the floor, and to be able to sit in this position for the entire length of the trip. If children are not able to meet these requirements, it is best to put them back into a front-facing car seat for the time being.
Height and Weight Requirements
Iowa’s laws for seat belt and car seat use make few height and weight recommendations, but following are the ones they do have on the books:
- Ages 0-2 and under 20 pounds: rear-facing car seat
- Ages 1-6: some type of child-restraint system, meaning either a car seat or booster seat
- Ages 6-11: some type of restraint system, meaning either a booster seat or a standard seat belt
- Ages 0-18 riding in the rear seats of a vehicle: some type of restraint system – either a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt
It is also good to remember that all of these recommendations are merely guidelines, and if anything is unclear you should consult with the state’s department of motor vehicles to get additional information.
Laws for Seat Belts
If you are required to use a standard seat belt, you must have both a lap belt and shoulder belt and they must be used properly, which means:
- The lap belt must fit across the lap, not across the stomach
- The shoulder belt must fit over the shoulder area, not under the arm
If you are over the age of 18 and riding in the back of a vehicle, you are not required to be wearing seat belts. However, seat belts are highly recommended because this is the best way to keep you safe while you’re in a moving vehicle. All of Iowa’s laws apply to everyone in the vehicle, whether they are residents of the state or not.
In the state of Iowa, the authorities can pull you over if they merely suspect you are not wearing a seat belt. Drivers and passengers can also be ticketed separately, depending on their age, and the first fine is usually around $50.
There are also exceptions to these laws if the vehicle you drive is:
- Manufactured before the year 1966
- A postal vehicle
- A vehicle used for your job where you have to make frequent stops (e.g., a vehicle used for package deliveries)
- A taxicab
- A bus or school bus
- A van, truck, bus, or multi-purpose vehicle manufactured before the year 1972
- An emergency vehicle
There are also exceptions for special needs children who have medical reasons for not using a proper restraint system; however, in these cases a document signed by a physician is required to be in the vehicle at all times in case the authorities stop you.
The state of Iowa takes its responsibility to protect drivers and passengers seriously and periodically revises the laws so that drivers and passengers are even safer. All of the recommendations made by the state are made with the intention of keeping citizens as safe as possible all year long.