California Car Seat Law Information

Manufacturers design child safety seats to keep your kids comfortable and protected as they ride along with you. They offer additional protection and could prove life-saving in the event of an unforeseen occurrence. To keep your kids even safer whenever they’re in your vehicle, always remember to follow the car seat laws in California.

Following those car seat laws is a must for every parent. If you aren’t aware of them, now is the time to change that.

In addition to learning more about the laws, you’ll also pick up other important details related to car seats in this article. Please read on if you want to know all about child safety seats.

What Are the Car Seat Laws in California?

The child safety seat laws in the Golden State vary depending on how old your kid is or how much he/she has grown.

First, you have laws that dictate how children under the age of two should be seated in a vehicle.

According to California law, you should secure children under the age of two inside a rear-facing car seat.  When securing your kid into that rear-facing car seat, you need to be certain that you’re following the manufacturer’s height and weight limits.

Not all children younger than two years old need to use rear-facing car seats, however. If your child either weighs more than forty pounds or over forty inches tall, he/she is no longer required to use a rear-facing car seat.

You should keep your child using the rear-facing car seat in the back of your vehicle.  If your vehicle has an active passenger airbag, you cannot place your child in the rear-facing harness in the front seat, according to

Child restraint systems are still required even if your kid has outgrown the rear-facing car seat. In this next stage, you can start using a forward-facing car seat. Per the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, all children under the age of eight or who are no taller than 4’9” must be in a car seat while traveling.

You’ll reach another landmark when your child grows to over sixty-five pounds. At that point, you can start using a booster seat inside your vehicle as opposed to a more restrictive forward-facing car seat.

Parents are encouraged to use booster seats until their children have either reached 4’9” in height or are over eight years old. Once they exceed either one of those marks, they can start using seat belts with no additional harness.

How Can I Tell If My Child Is Ready to Use a Seat Belt Without a Booster Seat?

Removing the booster seat from your vehicle is a significant step, and it’s one that you need to consider carefully.

We already mentioned that you can stop using the booster seat once your kid is over eight years old or is taller than 4’9,” but you may want to consider a few other factors first before you start relying solely on the seat belt. After all, kids grow at different rates, and that must be acknowledged before you decide on the booster seat.

To get a better idea of whether your child is ready to use a seat belt on its own, you can try performing something known as the 5-step test.

The Steps

  1. Start by looking at how your child sits up against the back seat of the vehicle. Is he/she able to sit back against the seat? If your child cannot sit back, then that’s a sign that they should still be using a booster.
  1. Next, look at how your child’s knees line up with the seat of your car. Ideally, your child’s knees should reach the edge of the seat easily. Consider sticking with a booster seat if your child’s knees are not reaching that point yet.
  1. You need to see how the belt fits over your child’s body. The seat belt should go over both the neck and arm of your kid. The seat belt riding up too high along the side of your child’s face is an indicator that he/she should not be using it alone. Plus, you want to avoid positioning the seat belt that way because it can be uncomfortable for your child.
  1. The position of the lap belt is also a good indicator of whether your child should stop using a booster. The lap belt should be positioned low on the body, and you want it to contact the thighs. Lap belts that ride up too high may dig into your child’s stomach and cause discomfort.
  1. Finally, consider the comfort level of your child when deciding if he/she still needs a booster seat. The seat belt may fit properly but your child may not be completely comfortable with it yet. Instead of risking your child fiddling around with the seat belt, place him/her in a booster for now.

Are There Any Exceptions Regarding Car Seat Laws in California?

You should always do your best to meet the guidelines set forth by the child car seat laws in California. However, there are exceptions put in place in case there are issues with your vehicle or the car seat you want to use.

The first exception relates to seat belts.

The components of older cars get worn down over time, and some of them may no longer function as intended. For instance, the shoulder component of the seat belt may no longer work properly after many years of use.  In that case, your child can still sit in the back, wearing only the lap portion of the seat belt, but he/she must also be over forty pounds.

There are also instances where you can have a child under the age of eight sit in the front of the vehicle. You can do that if you cannot properly install a car seat in the vehicle or if younger children have taken up the seats in the back. A child under the age of eight can also sit in the front of the car for medical reasons.

If you do end up having to place your child in the front seat, consider disabling any airbags first. Airbags can be life-saving features for adults with stronger bodies, but they can cause serious damage when deployed against a child’s body.

As much as possible, you are still urged to follow all guidelines set forth by the state of California regarding car seats but do know that there are exceptions granted in certain situations.

What Are the Penalties for Violating California’s Car Seat Laws?

Violating the car seat laws in California puts your children at risk needlessly. You should follow those laws the best that you can. Safeguarding your child from injuries should be reason enough, but if you need additional reasons, you can read up on the penalties you may receive.

People found violating the car seat laws will be given a ticket. A single ticket may cost you around $500, and that is only for one child. You will obviously have to pay more if multiple children in your vehicle are not in appropriate harnesses.

The fines assessed to you will double if they find you in violation of the car seat laws for a second time. You could end up being fined $1,000 for failing to purchase a car seat that costs somewhere around $200.

Outside of the fines you’ll deal with, the state will also add corresponding points to your driving record. If those points start to pile up, you’ll find it impossible to purchase auto insurance at a reasonable price.

Keeping your child safe should always be the main reason you use car seats, but it’s clear that you also have a financial incentive to abide by the law.

The ticket or tickets will be handed to the parent if he/she was present in the vehicle when his/her child was found not using an appropriate seat belt. This rule applies until your child is sixteen years old.

If the parent of the child was not in the vehicle at the time, the driver will be the one hit with the penalties.

How Do Car Seats Impact Child Safety?

Most new parents cannot bear to be away from their children. They want to spend every waking moment with their little bundles of joy, which is why they also want to travel with them. Your desire to spend the day with your children is perfectly understandable, but the reality is that traveling is a risk for them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, injuries sustained from motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death in children. Back in 2017, nearly 116,000 children aged twelve and younger were injured as a result of their involvement in car accidents. Around 675 of the children died because of their injuries. The CDC also notes that 35 percent of the children who died due to their injuries were not wearing appropriate safety seats or belts.

The numbers are staggering, and what’s even more frustrating is that we can do something about them.

Consider the fact that car seats reduce the risk of a child sustaining an injury from an accident by as high as 82 percent when compared to only using a seat belt.

Even a booster seat can prove to be immensely beneficial in terms of keeping children safe while they’re riding in cars. Compared to seat belts, booster seats reduce injury risk in children aged four to eight years old by around 45 percent.

Why Child Safety Seats Are Essential

The numbers above should tell you why you must invest in safety seats for your children. If you want additional reasons why you should use those pieces of safety equipment, this article from California State University, Northridge has highlighted them.

Being careful or practicing defensive driving is not enough to guarantee your child’s safety. Many of the accidents that lead to children getting injured take place on roads where the speed limit is no higher than 45 mph.

Hitting the brakes too quickly can also be harmful to your child’s developing brain. Because of how a child’s body is proportioned, their head is more vulnerable to injury in the event of a crash. Safety seats don’t provide complete protection, but they do a great job of keeping the head and neck area stable.

Additional Tips for Using Child Safety Seats

Aside from using the appropriate safety seat for your child, there are other things to keep in mind as you install that piece of equipment inside your car.

For one, you should make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. The car seat cannot do its job properly if you don’t install it correctly.

You should also change the car seats if needed. Try to refrain from using a car seat that is too small for your child because it may be doing more harm than good at this point.

Lastly, if your child is getting older but still fits into the car seat, feel free to keep using it. You won’t regret erring on the side of caution.

Always stay safe whenever you go on the road by following the car seat laws in California. If you have more questions regarding the laws governing vehicle safety in the Golden State, please feel free to contact the Quirk Law Group. We are more than happy to answer your questions and handle any legal concerns you have.