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Just like many other states, Tennessee car seat laws regarding seat belts and children’s car seats are designed to protect both children and adults, and the state occasionally updates these laws so that people can be even safer. The last revisions were made in July of 2004 and reflect some of the suggestions made by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations.
Tennesee Laws for Rear-Facing Car Seats
In Tennessee, any child who weighs less than 20 pounds and is under 1 year of age must be in a rear-facing car seat whenever the child is in a moving vehicle. If the car seat you use meets federal safety standards yet has height and weight requirements that differ from the state’s, you can abide by these recommendations instead. All car seats must meet all federal safety standards, and a brand-new car seat is always recommended over one that is old or used.
Babies should also be in the back seat of the vehicle whenever possible. If you do have a child’s car seat in the front seat, you must either have no airbag or the airbag must be disconnected. Airbags can seriously harm or even kill very young children and babies, so it is imperative that they be disconnected if a small child is in the front seat.
TN Laws for Front-Facing Car Seats
Children ages 1 through 3 years and weighing more than 20 pounds should be in a front-facing car seat that meets all federal safety standards. Once again, if your federally approved car seat has different recommendations, you are free to follow those instead. In these cases, the car seat manufacturer’s recommendations are generally stricter than the state’s and, therefore, will be safe to follow.
Children should remain in a front-facing car seat until they are 4 years old and/or until they reach 4’9” in height. Unless children are both 4’9” in height and between the ages of 4 and 8, they must be in a front-facing car seat every time they are inside of a moving vehicle.
Laws for Booster Seats
In the Tennessee car seat laws, children ages 4 to 8 years and who are less than 4’9” in height should be in a booster seat. The booster seat must be secured with a standard seat belt and must be one of two federally approved 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 is important to choose the right type of booster seat and that the child can sit comfortably while in the seat. If your child’s feet don’t touch the floor or if they are not able to sit for long periods of time, he or she may still need a front-facing car seat. It is important that they be both under 4’9” and between the ages of 4 and 8; otherwise, you may have to go back to placing them in a standard child’s car seat.
Height and Weight Requirements
Below are the basic height and weight requirements for children up to age 15 in the state of Tennessee:
- Ages 0-1 and less than 20 pounds: rear-facing car seat
- Ages 1-3 and 20+ pounds: front-facing car seat
- Ages 4-8 and under 4’9” in height: booster seat secured by seat belt
- Ages 9-12 and more than 4’9” in height: standard seat belt and in the rear seat of the vehicle
- Ages 13-15 and more than 4’9” in height: standard seat belt in either the rear or front seat of the vehicle
Again, only federally approved car seats and seat belt systems should be utilized, and passengers must be in these types of restraints as long as the vehicle is in motion.
Tennessee Laws for Seat Belts
Children ages 9 through 12 years and who are at least 4’9” in height must be in a federally approved restraint system, including seat belts, and it is highly recommended that they remain in the rear seat in any moving vehicle. In fact, regardless of their age or weight, children who are 4’9” or taller have to be in some type of restraint system at all times when they’re in a moving car.
Children ages 13 to 15 must also be in a standard seat belt, but they are allowed to be in the front seat as well as the back seat.
There are some exceptions to these rules, as children in medically prescribed child-restraint systems that have been modified are also allowed to ride in a moving vehicle. However, in these instances a document signed by a physician must be in the vehicle at all times as proof of this modification.
If you are the driver of a vehicle and there are children 16 years of age and younger riding with you, you are responsible for making sure all of them are properly restrained. In fact, if you are caught with children 16 and under not properly restrained, you can receive a fine of up to $50 for each occurrence. If the children are not properly restrained and their parent or guardian is in the vehicle at the time, the parent or guardian will receive the $50 fine.
In the state of Tennessee, the authorities can pull you over and give you a ticket just for not being properly restrained and without being guilty of any other infractions. This is why it is of utmost importance that you make sure you and everyone else in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt or sitting in a car seat the entire time the vehicle is moving.
Some vehicles are exempt from these restraint laws, but this generally includes only school buses, taxicabs, large passenger vans, and a few others.