The New Hampshire car seat laws are pretty straight forward especially when it comes to wearing seat belts. New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t require adults to wear seat belts when they’re driving or riding in a moving vehicle. However, they do require car seats for children and teenagers. In fact, anyone under the age of 18 is required to be in some type of restraint system while in a moving car or truck.
This law is meant for most vehicles, including sedans, minivans, pickup trucks, and SUVs, but is often not required for taxis and limos, some large passenger vans, public transportation buses, school buses, and some farm trucks. With the exception of these vehicles, however, it is required that all children under the age of 18 be in some type of restraint system when riding in a moving vehicle.
Once a child reaches 4’9” in height, he or she can use a regular seat belt instead of a child safety or booster seat. Interestingly, the fatality rate for motor vehicles in New Hampshire is lower at 7.6 per 100,000 people than the national average, which is 11.4 per 100,000.
New Hampshire Laws for Rear-Facing Car Seats
Most of New Hampshire’s car seat and seat belt laws follow federally recommended guidelines, which state that infants up to age 2 and who weigh less than 20 pounds should be placed in a rear-facing car seat with a 5-point harness system. There are different types of rear-facing car seats, including infant seats, which they usually outgrow by 8 or 9 months, and convertible or all-in-one car seats, which can be installed to face the rear of the vehicle.
You can follow the recommendations made by the manufacturer of your car seat and allow your infant to stay in this type of car seat until he/she reaches the maximum weight, which is usually around 20 or 30 pounds, depending on the car seat itself.
NH Laws for Front-Facing Car Seats
Once children reach 2 to 3 years of age and weigh at least 20 pounds, you can switch them to a front-facing car seat. If the top of your child’s head is at least 1 inch below the top of the car seat, he or she isn’t too big to remain there. Again, you should keep your child in a front-facing car seat as long as possible or until he or she reaches the maximum weight as described in your user’s manual.
Laws for Booster Seats
Booster seats are meant for children ages 4 to 8 and who weigh 40 pounds or more. It is crucial that you pay attention to the type of booster seat you purchase, because they must be able to be restrained with a lap and shoulder seat belt and be one of the following two types of booster seats:
- 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.
When you restrain the booster seat with a seat belt, the seat belt must have a lap belt that fits across the lap, not the stomach; and a shoulder belt that fits across the chest, not the head or neck area. They should also never be placed underneath the child’s arm, as this is actually an unsafe position.
Furthermore, the child should be large enough to sit with his or her feet on the floor and sit up straight, as well as be mature enough to sit in this position for the length of the trip. If this is not the case, it is wise to go back to a front-facing car seat to ensure the child’s safety and comfort.
Height and Weight Requirements
There are no actual height and weight requirements for car seats in New Hampshire because again, the state uses the federal guidelines as recommendations, and they are described below:
- Ages 0-2 and under 20 pounds: rear-facing car seat
- Ages 2-4 and under 40 pounds: front-facing car seat
- Ages 4-8 and under 4’9” in height: seat belt-secured and approved booster seat
- Ages 9 and over and 4’9” or taller: standard seat belt
Anyone over 4’9” in height and under 18 years of age needs to be in a standard seat belt, preferably one with both a lap and shoulder belt.
New Hampshire Laws for Seat Belts
Since New Hampshire car seat laws don’t require adults to use seat belts, there are no actual laws for wearing them. However, in 2009 the New Hampshire state legislature passed HB383, which would’ve required all adults to wear seat belts whenever they are in a moving vehicle. The Senate, however, defeated the measure by a 16-8 vote.
In 2018, another attempt was made to pass a mandatory seat belt law, but it was tabled and never went anywhere. The federal government has encouraged all 50 states to pass mandatory seat belt laws, but they have not made this a requirement, which is likely one of the reasons that the state of New Hampshire has been successful in letting the seat belt laws remain as they are now.
Because seat belts aren’t required in New Hampshire, the state has one of the lowest seat belt usage rates in the country. At one point, only 76.4% of the citizens wore seat belts regularly, which is below the national average of 89.6%. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirms that the states that require seat belt usage always have higher participation rates than states that do not have this requirement. Indeed, New Hampshire’s seat belt usage rates have consistently gone down in the past few years, falling from 72.2% in 2010 to 69.5% in 2015.
Still, police and other groups continuously aim for increasing seat belt usage in New Hampshire, and the numbers are showing that they are, in fact, making a difference when it comes to the number of adults who consistently wear their seat belts.