Car Seat Law
Before you place your child into a car seat in your car, it’s a good idea to know what the laws are. They are put in place to keep your baby safe, and they differ from country to country and even from state to state. It’s up to you to be vigilant and know what the laws are in your home state, so you can abide by the rules and make sure your bundle of joy is as protected as possible.
However, please be aware that local law does not necessarily represent best practice. It is recommended that you follow your local car seat laws as the minimum requirements for restraining your child while traveling.
As far as car seat law works, it confirms where a child can sit or be placed in the car. It also deals with what they have to sit on, depending on their age, weight or height. For example, a toddler would not be able to use a standard seat belt for protection. They simply aren’t big enough for it to work properly. This is why they need help with a special type of car seat, built for children of that size. It has built in straps that can offer the protection they need.
There are different seats to accommodate newborns, toddlers, larger kids, and even grade school kids. This encompasses everyone around 12 and under. The younger kids have to sit in seats that prop them up and are secured into place, while the older kids simply have to use a booster seat, which gives them a bit of height advantage in the car. Booster seat law states that a child must use one from about the ages of 4-12, depending on their weight and height.
With all the different types of car seats, you may be wondering how you know when you need to upgrade. The truth is you don’t have to upgrade until your child grows out of a certain seat. All car seats come with information that tells you how big your child can be and still use it, including height and weight. When your baby becomes larger than that, it’s time to get a new seat that can accommodate the growth spurt.
After a child doesn’t need a seat to sit in the car anymore, there are still special laws that need to be followed in the area of child seat belt laws. As a whole, a child, like everyone else in the car, must wear their seat belts at all times while being a passenger. Although not a legal requirement everywhere, they should also be in the back seat until they are over the age of 13. This may upset them, but it will keep them safer. You want them away from the front of the car because that is where most of the glass is and it’s more dangerous than riding in the back seat.
Car Seat Laws where you live
Car seat law varies from country to country and in the US also from State to State. Whilst we have given an overview of the general principles above the differences in law can be quite wide depending on exactly where you live. This section look at car seat laws for the following countries:
- United States
- United Kingdom
If you are looking for car seat laws for another country then a good place to start is the Law Library of Congress website, which provides information and links for 26 countries.
Again, child seat laws change a bit from state to state, so you’ll have to do some research to see what the exact requirements for your state are. You can do this by asking around, checking online, or even contacting your local government. Lots of cities have resources to help you get your car seat just right. This includes weekends where they will check your car to see if the seat is installed correctly, or workshops where they can give you all sorts of information on child restraint laws.
United States Car Seat Laws
All 50 US States plus the District of Columbia have car seat laws. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) provides the requirements for each State on their website in both table and map format so it is easy to understand.
The table confirms the following information for each US State & D.C.:
- the applicable age, weight or height requirement for the 3 stages of child restraint seat:
- rear facing car seat laws;
- forward facing car seat laws; and
- booster seat laws.
- Seat belt law confirming the permissible age, weight or height when a child can move to a seat belt
- the maximum fine that is payable for non-compliance with the car seat law
- Whether the law states a preference for use of the rear seat
Canada Car Seat Laws
Canada’s laws on child restraint systems and seat belts vary from one provincial/territorial jurisdiction to another.
- In Ontario, car seat laws are contained in section 106 of the Highway Traffic Act and its subordinate regulation.
- in British Columbia, car seat laws are found in section 220 of the Motor Vehicle Act and Division 36 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations.
- In Quebec they can be found in section 397 of the Highway Safety Code.
See Child Passenger Safety: Canada, AAA Digest of Motor Laws(2012) for detailed information on car seat laws for each Canadian State. http://drivinglaws.aaa.com/tag/child-passenger-safety/#quickjumpCanada
United Kingdom Car Seat Laws
The current law (which changed in 2006) requires all children travelling in the front or rear seat of cars to use the correct child car seat until they are:
- either 135 cm in height; or
- 12 years old, which ever they reach first.
After this they must use an adult seat belt.
There are very few exceptions to this legal requirement. It is the responsibility of the car driver to ensure that all children under the age of 14 are using the correct restraint.
Only EU-approved child car seats can be used in the UK. These have a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle.
ECE Regulation 129 (i-Size) is a new standard for child car seats that will eventually replace the current UK car seat law that uses ECE Regulation 44 (R44).
Under R44 child seats are approved according to weight groupings, which we covered in our article on the different car seat types. The new “i-size” regulations are intended to make it easier to choose the right seat and are based on a child’s height rather than weight. They will eventually replace the R44 legislation.
One of the main differences with the new i-size standards is that they are designed to keep children rearward-facing until they are at least 15 months old. The current R44 car seat law states that children only need to be rear facing until they reach 9kg in weight. This does not go as far as the AAP guidelines, which recommend to stay rear facing until age 2.
These car seat laws are confirmed at the following UK government website:
Australia Car Seat Laws
National Transport Commission (Road Transport Legislation — Australian Road Rules) Regulations 2006 provide the legal requirement for the use of child restraints in Australia.
In addition there are laws within each Australian State and territory that govern the particular type of car seat that is required and at what age. As with other countries, these car seat laws are minimum standards and do not fully align with recommended best practice.
- Up to six months - your baby must be secured in an approved rearward facing restraint
- From six months to four years old - your child must be secured in either a rear or forward facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness
- Under four years old - your child cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rows
- From four years to seven years old - your child must be secured in a forward facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness or an approved booster seat
- From four years to seven years old - your child cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rows, unless all other back seats are occupied by children younger than seven years in an approved child restraint or booster seat
- From seven years old to 16 years old - Your child must use a booster seat or a seatbelt properly adjusted and fastened.
- If your child is too small for the child restraint specified for their age, you should keep them in their current child restraint until it is safe for them to move to the next level.
- If your child is too large for the child restraint specified for their age, you may move them to the next level of child restraint.
For further information check out these Australian government agency and charity websites
Other Things to Know
It may also be a good idea to research all the different types of car seats to see what brands are good and last a long time. Car seats have expiration dates to make sure that they stay safe the whole time you are using them, so it is most beneficial to find a seat that will last a long time before it expires, especially if your child has just outgrown their last seat.
One more thing to keep in mind is that a child seat or booster seat can only work when it is installed properly. Make sure you read the directions and practice placing it in your car when your child is not actually using it. That way you can get the whole thing secured into place and you won’t have to worry about the constraints of time. It may also be a good idea to make sure your spouse can do the same, so you know your children are always buckled in correctly.
When you are trying to become familiar with child restraint laws, there can be so much stuff to keep straight that you get confused. The most important things to remember are that your child will need 2-3 different types of seats as they grow and become a big kid. The seats are perfect for children at different stages of development and offer a safety factor that is necessary, since a regular seat belt can’t help someone under a certain height.
After a child outgrows car seats, there is also a booster seat to be concerned about. Booster seat regulations are simpler than car seat rules, and help kids stay in the right position for a seatbelt to work well for them. You should also make it a point to keep kids seated in the backseat until they are at least 12 years old.
However, simply knowing the rules isn’t enough; you also have to be able to follow them and make good choices. Purchasing the best seat you can and making sure it stays in good working condition is very important, as is staying aware of all the laws and rules. Looking at websites, such as Kid Sitting Safe and noting changes in child seat safety concerns and recalls will make sure you aren’t ever the victim of one. You can also keep an open dialogue between you and the other parents you know, so that you can exchange tips and advice on how to keep your little one as safe as can be. Remember to also be aware of all state laws and the possible changes in them, since you are responsible for following them.