According to North Carolina car seat laws, it is permissible to adhere to the recommendations made by the manufacturer of the car seat that you’re using. Each car seat is different; therefore, following the manufacturer’s suggestions is highly recommended. These suggestions will give you recommended height and weight limits, and possibly age limits, that are certain to keep your child safe at any age.
Generally, once a child reaches the age of eight or gets to a weight of 80 pounds, you can switch from a booster car seat to a standard seatbelt. In addition, the state requires that all children less than five years of age and weighing less than 40 pounds be in the back seat of the vehicle at all times and never in the front seat. If you have no back seat, you can place them in your front seat if your airbag is deactivated. If they have reached the age of five, they can be in the front seat but it is highly recommended that you deactivate the airbag first.
Laws for Rear-Facing Car Seats
Because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it, the state of North Carolina recommends that all babies two years old and under be placed in rear-facing car seats. This way, the baby’s head, shoulder, and spine are better supported and protected in the event of a crash. Babies in rear-facing car seats should always be in the back seat of the vehicle; in fact, it is law that they are not allowed in the front seat, especially if it has an airbag.
Most rear-facing car seats are appropriate for babies up to approximately 30 pounds and it is recommended that they remain in this type of car seat for as long as possible for best results. Rear-facing car seats should also be buckled in correctly, as should the child.
Laws for Front-Facing Car Seats
Once a child reaches roughly 20 pounds, you can switch to a front-facing car seat and children can usually remain in this type of car seat until the age of four or five. Front-facing car seats should still be placed in the back seat of the vehicle because this keeps children much safer if you get into an accident. Make sure that the tips of the child’s ears are below the top of the car seat. If they aren’t, the child may be ready for a booster seat.
Children are usually in front-facing car seats until they reach approximately 40 pounds, although it is possible to keep children in certain seats until they are 90 pounds.
Laws for Booster Seats
Booster seats are usually used around the age of four or five but you should first learn the difference between the two types of booster seats, which are:
- Backless booster seats, which should only be used if your vehicle has a proper headrest because the child needs something for head, shoulder, and spine support
- Full-back booster seats, which are needed if you have no headrest because they will provide the support that the child needs
In addition, when using booster seats, always secure them using a lap and shoulder belt, not just a lap belt. Make sure that the shoulder strap fits snugly over the chest and the lap belt fits snugly around the thighs. If you cannot get the child secured properly in a booster seat, it might mean that you should go back to using a front-facing car seat for a bit longer.
Just as with rear- and front-facing car seats, booster seats should be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions because this is the only way to make sure that the child is as safe as possible with each and every ride. Although the state of North Carolina doesn’t make specific recommendations as to height and weight, most car seat manufacturers do and these are the best guidelines to stick to.
When using booster seats, the state also recommends that you not use them for children who may fit the minimum height and weight requirements but who might be emotionally unprepared for such a car seat. If your child cannot sit still enough to remain in a booster seat without too much fidgeting, he or she is likely not ready for one and should therefore return to a front-facing car seat.
Height and Weight Requirements
The state of North Carolina makes no height and weight requirements but does suggest that their recommendations are to be considered minimum standards for safety. Below are their general guidelines and recommendations for choosing the right car seat for your child:
- Birth to 3 years of age: rear-facing car seat
- Ages 1 to 7: front-facing car seat
- Ages 4 to 12: booster seat
- Ages 8 and older: standard seatbelt
Again, following the guidelines set forth by the car seat’s manufacturer is your best bet because this is the easiest way to ensure that your child is safe for the entire ride.
Laws for Seatbelts
In North Carolina, a child must be either eight years old or 80 pounds in order to wear a standard seatbelt; of course, these numbers are minimums. Children who haven’t reached 80 pounds or the age of eight should not be in a regular seatbelt even if the seatbelt looks as if it’s going to fit. In addition, the state makes the following recommendations for children wearing seatbelts:
- A lap belt that fits low on the abdomen, snug across the hips, and at least touching the upper thigh area
- A shoulder belt that fits snugly across the chest and collar bone
In addition, the seatbelt and car seat laws apply to everyone in the vehicle, including the driver and all passengers. The laws also apply to any vehicle made after January 1, 1968 as well as light trucks and vans made after 1972. Other vehicles exempt from the laws include postal vehicles, buses and taxis, and certain farm vehicles.
The fine for not wearing a seatbelt is $25 for the penalty and court costs of $75, although no points are assessed on your driver’s license. The penalties can differ, however, depending on whether it is associated with the back seat or the front seat of the vehicle.