Every state has a law about children’s car seats, but do you know what the law is in your state?
Should your child’s car seat be rear-facing or forward-facing? Should your child be in an infant car seat, a convertible car seat, or a booster seat?
Do you know what age, weight, or height limits apply to determine the answers to these questions?
The laws on these issues can be pretty confusing, especially because they vary from state to state. Hopefully, this map can help you make sense of the laws in your state.
Disclaimer: this information is not a substitute for legal advice.
While there are variations on car seat laws across the country, here are some general guidelines:
- The minimum age at which children are allowed to ride without a child safety seat ranges from five (in South Dakota) to nine (in Wyoming). However, most states require children under eight to be in some sort of child safety seat.
- Many states explicitly require that a child under one or two years of age ride in a rear-facing child safety seat.
Exceptions to Car Seat Laws
Please remember that the map above is only a general overview of car seat laws. There could be exceptions to the law in your state. Here are a few that could apply:
- Large Vehicles: Many states have an exception to car seat requirements for larger vehicles, like buses. However, be aware that in some states a “large vehicle” may be defined as anything designed to carry more than 10 passengers while in other states it may be defined as anything designed to carry more than 15 passengers. The term may also be defined by the vehicle’s gross weight rating.
- Shoulder Straps: There may be an exception if all the shoulder straps in your vehicle are already in use, if your vehicle has no shoulder straps, or if your vehicle is older and has no seat belts at all.
- Medical Exceptions: An exception may also exist for someone who has a medical opinion stating that use of a standard car seat would be hazardous to the person’s health.
What This Map Does Not Cover
It is important to note that this map is focused on one thing — car seat laws. It does not cover the following issues:
- Seat Location: Some states explicitly require car seats to be in the back seat. Moreover, even once your child is no longer required to sit in a child safety seat, there may be laws prohibiting children under a certain age, height, and/or weight from sitting in the front passenger seat, especially if the front seat has an airbag which cannot be turned off.
Even if a state does not have such a requirement, we still encourage younger children to be seated in rear seats for safety reasons and to avoid any allegations of neglect. Remember, just because you legally “may” do something does not mean that someone may not report you for it to CPS. Making sure younger children are seated in the back seat keeps everyone safer in more ways than one.
- Older Children: The map does not address seat belt laws for older children once they are no longer required to be in a car seat.
- Double-Buckling: The map also does not address issues like double-buckling, which at least one state prohibits. ¹
Here are a few final notes:
- The darker the shading on the map, the more restrictive the law.
- A few states have recently passed bills which change the car seat law, but are not yet in effect. In these states, we have provided both the current law and the new law. The color shading on the map is based on the newer law.
- When the phrase “appropriate child safety seat” is used, it means that the seat must be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications. Parents should also make sure that their child’s car seat is not expired.
- Unless specifically stated otherwise, the term “child safety seat” includes booster seats that are appropriate for the child’s height and weight.
- Always remember that cities and other municipalities may have even more restrictive laws than those provided by the state.
- Lastly, remember that the summaries provided are just that–summaries. To read the actual text of the law, please look up the citation for your state’s law, which is included on the map.
¹“A child safety seat or seat belt may not be used to restrain, seat, or position more than one individual at a time.” Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 22-412.2.
If you are a member of Heritage Defense and have a question about whether an exception may apply or specific details about the law in your state, please contact us.
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