Car seat restraint systems are legally required for children who are being transported in a vehicle. The law outlines how long a child must be seated in a proper restraint system in order to keep children safe while a vehicle is in operation. Unfortunately, there are some gaps in the law that allow drivers to operate a vehicle without adequately protecting passengers under the age of 18. Drivers with passengers under the age of 18 who are not legally required to use a special restraint can be proactive about safety in order to reduce the possibility of injury in case of an accident.
Every state requires that children be seated in a proper car seat from birth. Most states require that parents or guardians leaving a hospital with a child following the birth of the child must prove to hospital personnel that a car seat is properly installed in the vehicle. Children under the age of one must generally be seated in a rear facing child seat. Although the law allows car seats to be turned to face forward when a child reaches the age of one, safety recommendations imply that it is best to keep a child rear facing at least until age two. Some states have a weight requirement that dictates when a child may use an adult restraint device instead of a car seat or booster seat. Fines for violation of car seat laws range from $25 to $425 plus court costs.
It is estimated that the car seat laws in nearly half of all states are not sufficient enough to protect children in the case of a car accident. States often allow drivers to opt for booster seats or even adult restraint devices well before a child is large enough for these restraints to properly secure them in a vehicle. Parents are advised to be proactive about the safety of their children in order to minimize the possibility of injury.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released guidelines that help parents and guardians ensure the safety of their children on the road despite lax car seat laws. The general guidelines that help keep children safe are listed below.
- Infants should be placed in a rear facing car seat until they either reach the age of two or a weight of 35 pounds. It is preferable to keep a child in a rear facing car seat until they have reached the weight recommendation of 35 pounds.
- Toddlers should be placed in a rear facing car seat for maximum safety. Most children do not reach a weight of 35 pounds until they are between the age of three and four.
- School-aged children should use a booster seat until they are tall enough for a standard seat belt to properly fit. Most children reach a height of 4 feet 9 inches before this happens.
- Older children who are large enough to use a standard seat belt should still remain in the back seat until they reach the age of 13.
Following car seat laws is a good start to ensure the safety of children while they are in a vehicle, but parents and guardians should go above and beyond in order to keep children protected against injury in the case of a car accident.