In July of 2019, the Virginia car seat laws changed for babies two years old and under. Babies now need to be in rear-facing car seats until the age of two or until they reach the maximum weight limit listed in the car seat’s owner manual. This corresponds with the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics and it is what more and more states are going to.
In Virginia, children seven years old and under have to be either in DOT-approved car seats or booster seats and they must be in the back seat of the vehicle at all times. If your vehicle has no back seat, they are allowed to be in the front seat but only if the airbag is deactivated. It is allowable for children seven and older to be in seatbelts and it is also a requirement for the driver and all passengers in any moving vehicle.
The state does make exceptions for some vehicles including taxis, limousines, and buses. In addition, since Virginia is a primary seatbelt law state, the authorities can stop you simply for being unbuckled and the first offense will cost you $50. You don’t have to have another violation in order to receive a fine for not wearing a seatbelt.
Laws for Rear-Facing Car Seats
Babies two and under must be in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the vehicle as long as that vehicle is moving. There is no height or weight limit associated with the law but most babies stay in this type of car seat until they reach 20 to 30 pounds. Babies should never be placed in the front seat of the vehicle but if that is your only option, the airbag needs to be deactivated first.
One of the reasons why rear-facing car seats are so important is that they are better able to protect your child’s neck, shoulder, and spine area when an accident occurs. The AAP has had this recommendation for many years but it is only recently that the states have begun to include it in their car seat laws.
Laws for Front-Facing Car Seats
Starting at around age two, toddlers can start using front-facing car seats. If you adhere to the recommendations made by the manufacturer of the car seat, the child will be safe. Children usually remain in front-facing car seats until they are around the age of four. The tips of the child’s ears should be below the top of the car seat, which is how you can judge if your child is ready for this type of car seat.
Laws for Booster Seats
Once the child reaches the age of four, it is possible that you can switch to a booster seat. Booster seats come in two main types. The backless types should only be used if the headrests in your vehicle are correctly made and usable. This type of booster seat may not protect the child’s head, shoulder, and spine area in the event of a crash if there is no headrest present.
A full-back booster seat is recommended for families whose vehicles have no proper headrests in their vehicles because it can protect an older child if you ever get into an accident. In addition, for both types of booster seats, you should use a lap and shoulder belt to secure them properly, never just a lap belt. Make sure that the shoulder belt fits snugly across the child’s chest and the lap belt fits across the thigh area.
For children who are small or short for their age, you may not be able to use a booster seat this soon. If your child isn’t secured correctly in the booster seat that you’ve chosen, you should feel free to go back to using a front-facing car seat as it may need to be used for a bit longer. All children in booster seats should continue to use them until they reach a height of 4’9”. This is not a law or requirement in Virginia but it is a general recommendation.
Height and Weight Requirements
There are no actual height and weight recommendations when it comes to car and booster seats in Virginia. However, they do recommend that you follow the guidelines set by the manufacturer so that your child is always properly restrained while in a moving vehicle. The only recommendation they make is that children need to be in car seats or booster seats until they reach the age of eight, which applies to all children unless they have some type of disability that makes them exempt from the law.
Laws for Seatbelts
The state requires the use of seatbelts for everyone over the age of eight and car or booster seats for anyone under that age. In Virginia, any driver or passenger in any moving vehicle that was manufactured after January 1, 1968 must be secured in a restraining device, such as car seats or seatbelts. Some vehicles are exempt from this requirement, and these include:
- Public transportation vehicles
- School buses
- Taxis or limousines
- Farm vehicles
- Executive sedans
In addition to a fine of $50 the first time that you are caught not wearing a seatbelt, the state can fine you up to $500 the second time. If your child is exempt from the car seat law due to a medical condition, you must have a written statement from a doctor testifying to this. If you do not, you could be fined an extra $20 civil penalty fee and the money goes into a special fund that is used to provide car seats for low-income families.
In addition to all of these requirements, children are never allowed in the cargo area of any moving car or truck. The only exemption is for certain farming operations and some parades. The laws also apply to anyone who is transporting a child under the age of 18, including grandparents, daycare providers, and babysitters. If you have any questions regarding car seats or need assistance in purchasing one, you can contact the Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Injury and Violence Prevention at 1-800-732-8333.