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Washington State has a seat belt usage of around 95%, which means most of its citizens are properly restrained every time they are in a moving vehicle. Still, every state has a goal to make that number 100%, and Washington is no different. The state also makes revisions in their seat belt and Washington car seat laws periodically to keep up with the latest federal guidelines, keeping its citizens as safe as possible year after year.
The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has an excellent website that can keep you up-to-date with all of the latest laws and regulations regarding seat belt usage, and it is a good idea to visit it periodically so that you don’t miss any important changes.
Washington Laws for Rear-Facing Car Seats
All infants and most toddlers should be kept in a rear-facing car seat, including rear-facing convertible seats, and it is recommended that they stay in this type of restraint system until they are 2 years old and reach the maximum weight limit recommended by the manufacturer of the car seat. Car seats should also be federally approved and consist of a 5-point harness system for the ultimate in safety for these youngsters.
As long as your car seat is new or relatively new and meets all federal safety standards, you can abide by the age/height/weight recommendations made by the manufacturer. This means that if any of those numbers are different than the ones recommended by the state, you can go along with the manufacturer’s numbers instead. This is because each car seat is different, and the manufacturer will always guarantee a safe product for your infant or toddler.
WA Laws for Front-Facing Car Seats
Toddlers and preschoolers can be restrained in a front-facing car seat, including convertible car seats, as long as there is a 5-point harness system. Once they have outgrown their rear-facing car seat and have reached the maximum age/weight limit set by the car seat manufacturer, they are ready for a front-facing car seat.
In most cases, babies need to be at least 2 years old and weigh a minimum of 20 pounds before they are able to fit comfortably and safely in a front-facing seat. If there is any concern about whether or not your child can move up to a front-facing car seat, it is best to keep him or her in a rear-facing seat until the correct age and weight limits are reached.
Laws for Booster Seats
In the state of Washington, booster seats are usually meant for school-aged children and should always be the type of booster seat that is restrained with a standard seat belt – a seat belt with both a lap belt and a shoulder belt. Once the child is in a booster seat, the lap belt should fit over the lap and not the stomach, and the shoulder belt should go across the chest and never under the arm.
In other words, booster seats have to be used correctly or they are simply not safe, and they should also 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.
Children should stay in a booster seat until they reach a height of 4’9” or a minimum age of 8 years. Once they reach around 12 years of age and a height of 4’9”, they are able to ride using a standard seat belt only, provided the seat belt is used correctly at all times.
In Washington, booster seats are recommended for children ages 8 to 12, because once they reach the age of 12 or 13, they are usually able to ride in the vehicle with a seat belt.
Height and Weight Requirements
There are no actual height and weight requirements in the state of Washington, but following are some general guidelines and recommendations to follow:
- Ages 0-2: rear-facing car seat
- Ages 2-4: front-facing car seat
- Ages 4-12 and a height of 4’9”: booster seat with seat belt
- Ages 13 and up: seat belt
In addition, the Washington car seat laws require that all children 13 and under be in the rear seat of a vehicle, and it is the driver’s responsibility to make sure that everyone in the vehicle is buckled up properly.
Washington State Laws for Seat Belts
The last time the Washington State laws were revised was in 2007, and it is now required for anyone 13 or over to be wearing a seat belt. This means seat belts that have both a lap belt and a shoulder belt, and they must be worn properly. As long as a vehicle is moving, everyone in the vehicle must be wearing a seat belt or be secured in a car seat, and this includes sedans, minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks.
There are, however, certain exceptions, but they only apply to large passenger vans, taxicabs, buses and limos, school buses, and company vehicles operated by workers who have to make frequent stops, e.g., a company that delivers packages or postal mail. Other than these, the laws apply to all vehicles of most makes and models.
In Washington, you can get pulled over simply for not wearing a seat belt, and the fine can be more than $120, which is pretty steep. If you have a child who has a medical condition that stops him or her from wearing a seat belt or being secured in a car seat, you must carry around documentation to that effect which is signed by a physician, in case the police pull you over.
If you consistently get stopped for failure to wear a seat belt, it can result in the suspension of your license or even the revocation of that license, depending on the number of offenses against you.