The golden state isn't just full of poppies lining the highways. There are nearly 400,000 miles of road. All of them are united by strict laws about child safety seats. Wherever you are, following those laws is mandatory, even if you are just running to the store. So here is the 4-1-1 on California's Car Seat Law.
Infant Car Seat Requirements in California
California Car Seat Law requires all children under the age of two to be in rear-facing car seats in the back seat.
Is your child big enough to really be safe sitting in a front-facing seat? Follow the 4-40-40 rule: four years old, forty pounds, forty inches.
You know kids grow in different fits and starts. One week they're growing like weeds. The next week you worry they're underweight for their age. Better than going by age (though stick to the two-years-old regardless), weight and height should be additional guidelines.
Keep your baby in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 40 pounds and 40 inches tall. That means your child will likely be about four years old.
Switching to a Front-Facing Car Seat
Once your child meets the maximum height and weight limits of a rear facing seat and is two-years-old, you can graduate to a front-facing car seat. Remember, that's the 4-40-40 guidelines even if they are over two years old.
Front facing car seats should have a five-point harness. Be sure to read the manufacturer's guidelines for height and weight requirements. Do not divert from these.
Switching from a Front-Facing Car seat to a Booster Seat
After your child outgrows the front-facing car seat, a booster seat is the next step. Booster seats ensure that the seatbelt sits across the chest safely.
Your child should keep using a booster seat until they meet safe seatbelt height of 4’9”. Keep in mind seatbelts are designed to optimally serve adult men of average height.
California car seat law requires that any child under two years old is secured in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
The only exceptions for not having a baby in the backseat are
- There is no back seat in the vehicle, like in a truck or two-seater.
- The back seat is fully occupied by younger children.
- Installing the car seat in the back seat is dangerous like in the case the seatbelt is broken.
- The back seats are rear-facing or side-facing jump seats.
- There are extenuating circumstances why the backseat cannot be safely used. Having it full of shopping bags would not count.
If there is an airbag in the front passenger seat, it is never legal to have a rear-facing car seat in the front seat.
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There are no exceptions for any child under two years old to be in any seat other than a rear-facing car seat.
When your child is tall enough to safely graduate to a normal seat, remember: the backseat is always safer for children (or anyone). Legally, once your child is 8 years old, they can sit in the front seat.
Car Seat Expiration Dates
It's not a myth that car seats expire. An expired car seat can put your child in serious danger.
A car seat sits in a car, enduring wear and tear, temperature changes, sun exposure, and general degradation of materials. One little weakness can mean that it doesn't stand up in collisions.
If there is no expiration date, never use a car seat that is more than six years older than the manufacturer's date. The expiration date and/or manufacture date will be with found with the serial number printed somewhere on the car seat. You may also find it in the owner’s manual.
Saving money is not as important as saving your child's life.
"When Can My Child Stop Using a Car Seat?"
Your child has to be in a car seat or booster seat until they are 8 years old. However, safe seatbelt use is a little more complicated.
Your child will probably want to sit like a big kid well before it's safe. But, car seat laws are rules that should not be broken. Seatbelts are unsafe for anyone under 4'9" tall. Not waiting until this height requirement in met can result in serious injury in the event of an accident.
If your little one is getting big ahead of the curve, they can legally use a regular seat and safety belt under 8 years old if they are 4'9". However, on average your child may use a booster seat until they are 12 years old.
Once your child is tall enough to use a regular seat, there are still a couple other laws. The seatbelt must fit correctly.
Child seatbelt safety requirements
- The lap belt rests low on the hips, touching the upper thighs.
- The seatbelt lies comfortably across the center of the child's chest.
Their legs should also be long enough to bend over the seat at the knees.
Car Seat Safety When Traveling
Car seat laws vary state-to-state, so check with your local highway patrol or public health department for car seat laws. When traveling to another state, avoid hefty fines and potential danger to your child. Check that your baby or toddler car seats conform to all state laws where you'll be traveling. If you are renting a car, be sure you have the safest car seat for that vehicle.
It's important to always follow the manufacturer's instructions for how to safely put your car seat in each type of vehicle.