California Child Front Seat Laws & Penalties
Posted in Criminal Defense on August 13, 2019
States across the country take child safety in a vehicle seriously and pass laws to ensure children are properly restrained. Most states have laws on the books that require you to use a child restraint system. California law is very specific about these laws, and we want to make sure you have the information you need to keep your child safe while also following the law.
- California requires all children under the age of eight and under 4 feet 9 inches to be properly secured in a child restraint system that meets federally approved guidelines.
- All other children age eight to 16 or over 4 feet 9 inches tall must wear a seatbelt in the vehicle.
- Children under eight years of age must be in a child safety seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
- Children in rear-facing restraint seats cannot ride in the front of there is an active front passenger seat airbag. Many vehicles allow users to turn this airbag off.
California law is detailed about the proper restraint of children. The lap belt must be low on the hips and touching the child’s upper thighs. The shoulder belt must cross the center of the chest.
As of January 1, 2017, drivers with children under the age of 2 in the vehicle must secure the child in a rear-facing child safety restraint system (unless the child weighs more than 40 pounds or is over 40 inches tall).
Penalty for violating seat belt or child restraint laws
The state takes these laws seriously and enforces various penalties. These include:
- $100 fine for a first offense
- $250 fine for each subsequent offense
Need a Lawyer?
If you are a repeat offender of this infraction it could go on your permanent record. At the Law Offices of Graham Donath, our team of Riverside defense attorneys can help you way your options.
When can a child ride in the front seat?
Under California law, a child may ride in the front seat of a vehicle in an appropriate child passenger restraint system under the following circumstances:
- There is no rear seat
- The rear seats are side-facing
- The rear seats are rear-facing
- The child restraint system cannot be installed properly in the rear seat
- All rear seats are already occupied by children seven years or younger
- Medical reasons necessitate the child not ride in the rear seat
Car accident statistics for California
Seatbelt and child restraint laws exist to protect our children. Vehicle accidents area reality in California. During the latest reporting year in the state, the Office of Traffic Safety says that there were hundreds of thousands of vehicle crashes. Out of those, there were:
- 3,602 traffic crash fatalities
- 273,069 traffic crash injuries
- 13,975 serious injuries
With those statistics in mind, we can see why it is so important to ensure our children are properly restrained. While nobody expects to be involved in a traffic crash, it is always better to be prepared.
Ensure you have the right seat
You want to ensure that you have the right seat for your child’s age and weight. Make sure your child safety seat meets or exceeds federal safety standards. The instructions of the safety seat will let you know when it is safe to let your child “graduate” to the next level (booster seat, no safety seat).
It is important that you properly install the safety seat in your vehicle. You can be sure you have done this correctly by taking your vehicle to your local fire or police department. There will likely be an employee certified to inspect your child’s safety seat installation or do it for you.
California Car Seat Laws
Motor vehicle accidents remain a leading cause of death and injury for children. Sadly, many of the injuries and fatalities were preventable with a proper car seat or booster.
Choosing to use a safety seat is the best way to keep your child safe in a vehicle. It is also the law in California.
Depending on your child’s age, height, and weight, different parts of the California car seat laws apply. Read on to learn more about the types of infant and child car seats and what California requires you to use when transporting a child.
What are CA Car Seat Laws?
The car seat laws California follows have different provisions based on the age, height, and weight of the child. Understanding each tier is essential for the safety of your child.
Requirements for Infants and Toddlers
Infants and toddlers fall under the California rear facing car seat law. Unless a child weighs more than 40 pounds or stands more than 40 inches tall, they must ride in a rear-facing car seat until at least age two.
In California, the law also states that you need to secure your child per the specifications set forth by the manufacturer of your car seat.
Car Seat Rules for Young Children
Once your child turns two or weighs 40 pounds or stands 40 inches, they can graduate to a larger car seat or booster seat. The car seat laws in California state that a child under the age of 8 must sit in a safety seat in the vehicle’s back seat.
Though not required under law, it is safest to buckle your child’s car seat into the middle position of the back seat whenever possible. The middle of the back seat is the safest position in the car.
When Can My Child Use a Booster Seat?
Under California car seat law, there are no specific criteria for moving into a booster seat from a car seat with a five-point harness. That said, your child can move into a booster seat when they surpass the maximum height or weight set forth by the current car seat’s manufacturer.
While California law doesn’t set specific criteria, the State Highway Patrol advises you to keep your child in each stage of a safety seat as long as possible. It’s also important to note that children still require a seat belt whether they use a car seat, booster seat, or no safety seat.
When Do Kids Outgrow Car Seats?
As noted above, California law doesn’t dictate when you can move your child into a booster seat or out of a booster seat. However, it is noted that a good rule of thumb for getting rid of the booster seat is a height of 57 inches.
Remember, seat belts were made for adults and fit children poorly. If a seat belt cuts your child above or below the center of their chest, it can cause damage to their stomach, spinal cord, neck, or hips.
Technically, children over eight can use just a seat belt. However, before moving away from the safety seats, you may want to make sure that your child can pass the five-step test.
- Is your child able to sit with their back against the seat back?
- Can your child comfortably bend their knees at the edge of the seat?
- Does the seat belt run across the middle of their chest?
- Is the lap belt low enough that it touches their thighs?
- Can your child sit comfortably and maintain the above four criteria for the entire trip?
When Can My Child Sit in the Front Seat?
California law says that children who are eight years of age or younger must ride in a rear seat barring certain circumstances, like no rear seating. However, it is suggested that children not ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle until at least age thirteen.
Penalties for Failure to Obey Car Seat Laws in California
In California, there are two penalties for drivers charged with failing to obey the car seat laws. By using an appropriate car seat or booster, you don’t just keep your child safe; you can avoid the legal repercussions.
- Fines start at $100 for the first violation and an additional $250 for any subsequent violations. Note that these are just the “base” rates, and you can expect additional fees and penalties attached.
- You also get one point on your DMV driving record.
Why Does California Have Car Seat Laws?
In 2018, more than 600 children under the age of twelve died in motor vehicle accidents, and another 97,000 suffered injuries. Of those who died, more than a third weren’t buckled in. Car seats and boosters make a huge difference in the lives of children. They remain the best chance at limiting casualties and injuries due to motor vehicle accidents.
See Related States: Ohio Car Seat Laws | Tennessee Car Seat Laws | Connecticut Laws | Kansas Laws
Types of Infant and Child Car Seats
Choosing the right car seat for your child may seem overwhelming, especially with so many options to choose from, but they are necessary in California. Before we address the state’s car seat laws, it helps to understand the terminology and how the seats differ.
Three Types of Infant Car Seats
Deciding on an infant car seat can be challenging because you have the most variety. There are multiple manufacturers and designs to choose from, but the biggest decision to make is which type of seat to use.
- Rear-facing-only infant car seats latch into a base that you secure in your car. They only accommodate newborns and infants under a certain weight and height, but they double as carriers that often attach to strollers, shopping carts, and more.
- A convertible car seat is more versatile because it starts as a rear-facing car seat for your infant until they are ready for a front-facing car seat. Note that smaller infants may not fit well in convertible car seats as they tend to be larger.
- All-in-one seats are the most versatile option, but they tend to be the biggest. However, all-in-one systems take your child from rear-facing to front-facing to booster seat with just a few adjustments.
Rear-Facing vs. Front-Facing Car Seats
Two of the terms used frequently are rear-facing and front-facing. Much as they sound, rear-facing seats turn your child toward the back of the car. Don’t worry, you can put a mirror on the backseat so that you can see your child through your rearview mirror. Front-facing seats allow your child to look out the front of the vehicle.
What About Booster Seats?
When your child is too large to fit in a car seat but not tall enough to use an adult seat belt, you can get a booster seat. The booster seat raises your child off the seat enough to use the vehicle’s seat belt safely. There are high-backed booster seats with a little extra padding and head cushions or just a booster seat with armrests.
Seat belts exist to keep us safe in motor vehicles, but they don’t work for young children. Thankfully, there are safety seats to secure your child at every stage of development and protect them from harm in the event of a motor vehicle accident.
California’s car seat laws don’t exist to punish; they exist to protect children.
California Car Seat Laws (2021): Current Laws & Safety Resources for Parents
Did you know that California has more than 170,000 thousand miles of road?
Unfortunately, those roads sometimes lead to injuries from car accidents, which is one of the leading causes of death and hospitalization among children under the age of 16.
Needless to say, it’s important to keep your kids safe by following California’s car seat laws (and ensuring you use a car seat that can hold up in an accident).
California Vehicle Code Section 27360 deals with child passenger safety. According to the law:
“Children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall. The child shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.”
California Rear-facing Car Seat Law
According to California car seat law, a child will travel in a rear-facing car seat if they are:
- Under 2 years old
- Weighs 40 or less pounds
- Or 40 or less inches tall
California Forward-facing Car Seat Law
By law, when a child outgrows the safety weight and height limit for rear-facing car seats, you can use a forward-facing car seat. Generally, it happens when the child is 4 years old, weighs 40 pounds and is 40” tall.
Child Booster Seat Laws in California
After the child has reached the weight limit of 65 pounds, they are ready to graduate to booster seats. According to the law:
"A child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harnesses, which is typically between 40 and 65 pounds. Read the forward-facing car seat’s owner’s manual to determine height and weight limits, and keep your child in a harnessed seat for as long as possible.”
When Can My Child Sit in the Front Seat in California?
Under the law, children who are older than 8 years and taller than 4”9’ can sit in the front seat but it is recommended by experts that you use booster seats until the age of 13.
Leaving Child in Car Law in California
California is one of those states where it gets really hot and it is illegal to leave children in the cars. California Vehicle Code Section 15620 says that no parent or guardian can leave a child under the age of 6 in a car. According to the law they have to be with be someone at least 12 years of age. Violating this law can land you in trouble and at least $100 fine.
Is it Illegal to Smoke in a Car with a Child in California?
In California, Health & Safety Code Section 118948(a) says It is Illegal to smoke in a car with a minor in it.
Taxi Car Seat Law in California
Taxis are not exempt from the law in California. Although the responsibility falls on parents first. If the parents aren’t present, then the cab driver will be held responsible.
California Law Car Seat - Replacement After Accident
California law makes it mandatory for insurance companies to replace the car seats after a crash regardless of they were occupied or not. It is always a good idea to replace your car seats after any major crash because car seats are supposed to handle only one crash. If the crash was minor, you can reuse the car seat again.
Places to Get Car Seat Help in California
Good Car Seat Safety Videos for California Parents
California child safety seat law
California Highway Patrol Child Safety Video
Cincinnati Children’s tutorial on car seat installation
An easy guide to safe car seat installation
Resources for More Info on California Car Seat Safety
The 4-1-1 on California's Car Seat Law
The Golden State isn't just miles of spectacular coastline. There’s also nearly 400,000 miles of road. All of them are united by strict laws regarding the use of child safety seats. Wherever you are, following those laws is mandatory, even if you are just making a quick trip to the neighborhood grocery store.
Here’s the 4-1-1 on California's Car Seat Law so you can stay compliant every time you drive.
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 at all times. Even after turning two, they need to ride in a rear-facing seat if the child hasn’t met the height and weight requirements.
Is your child big enough to safely sit in a front-facing seat? When in doubt follow the 4-40-40 rule:
4+ years old
The height and weight guidelines are going to be a better indicator than age since children grow at different rates. Keep your baby in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 40 pounds and 40 inches tall, which will probably be closer to age four than age two.
That is by design since California law says there are no exceptions for any child under two years old to be in any seat other than a rear-facing car seat. Today, many car seat manufacturers sell what’s known as convertible car seats. They convert from rear-facing to front-facing as the child grows. Convertible car seats make it easier and more affordable to ensure infants and toddlers are safe through various growth stages.
Switching to a Front-Facing Car Seat
Once your child meets the maximum height and weight limits of a rear-facing seat and is at least two years old, you can graduate to a front-facing car seat. Front-facing car seats are designed so that they are facing forward in the back of the vehicle and should have a five-point harness.
This type of car seat has weight and height guidelines as well. Be sure to read the manufacturer's manual to find the requirements and stick to them. And never put the car seat in the front seat. The airbags up front can cause serious injury or even death.
Switching from a Front-Facing Car Seat to a Booster Seat
Few people realize seatbelts are designed to optimally serve adult men of average height. They really don’t fit young children well, and an improper fit can lead to injuries in an accident.
After your child outgrows the front-facing car seat, a booster seat is the next step. Booster seats are made primarily for children between the ages of 4-8 years old to ensure that the seatbelt straps sit across the lap and chest safely.
Your child should keep using a booster seat until they meet safe seatbelt height of 4’9”.
Riding in the Back Seat is a Requirement
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, but older kids also need to sit in the back because it’s safer than the front seat. Legally, children can’t sit in the front seat until they are eight years old, but even then it isn’t advisable.
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. The only exceptions when it’s acceptable for a properly restrained baby or child to ride in the front seat are:
There is no back seat in the vehicle, like in a truck or two-seater car.
The back seat is fully occupied by younger children.
Installing the car seat in the back seat is dangerous, for example, if the back seatbelts are broken.
The back seats are rear-facing or side-facing jump seats.
There are extenuating circumstances why the backseat cannot be safely used.
When your child is tall enough to safely graduate to wearing a seat belt only it’s still best for them to steer clear of the front seat. The backseat is always safest for children.
Car Seat Expiration Dates
Did you know car seats can expire? An expired car seat can put your child in serious danger because it may not operate as expected.
A car seat sits in a vehicle enduring wear and tear, temperature changes, sun exposure and general degradation of materials over time. One little weakness can mean that it won’t withstand the impact of a collision.
The expiration date and/or manufacture date is usually found with the serial number printed somewhere on the car seat. You may also find it in the owner’s manual. Don’t see an expiration date on your car seat? If there is no expiration date, never use a car seat that is more than six years older than the manufacturer's date.
Remember, a car seat is a vital safety device. Saving money with an outdated or used car seat is not as important as protecting your child's life.
When Can My Child Stop Using a Car Seat?
The latest California laws require that a child sit in a car seat or booster seat in the rear of the vehicle until they are eight years old. However, safe seatbelt use is a little more complicated.
Seatbelts are unsafe for anyone under 4'9" tall. Not waiting until this height requirement is met can result in serious injury in the event of an accident. Your child will probably want to sit like a big kid well before it's safe, which is why it’s important to explain doing so is against California’s car seat laws.
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, some children won’t reach this milestone until around 12 years old, and until then they should use a booster seat.
Once your child is tall enough to use a regular seat, there are still a couple of other guidelines you should know about.
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 While Traveling
Following the guidelines above is important every time you drive with your child in the vehicle. Even if you only plan to drive a few miles the laws are still in effect. Unfortunately, a survey conducted by IDriveSafely found that 25% of parents don’t properly strap babies and children into car seats when they plan to drive a mile or less. Additionally, 76% said they were less likely to use a car seat on a short trip.
If you are tempted to forgo the car seat remember this - a Progressive Insurance study found that 52% of car accidents occur within five miles of a person’s home. Just because you’re going a short distance it doesn’t lower the risk of an accident.
Planning a road trip? Car seat laws vary state-to-state. California has some of the most comprehensive car seat laws so if you’re traveling out of state you should be good. But you’ll still need to check with the local highway patrol or public health department for car seat and seat belt laws.
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. Next, follow the manufacturer's instructions for how to safely put your car seat in each type of vehicle.
Car Seat Inspections in California
If there’s any doubt that the car seat isn’t installed properly you can have it inspected by a professional for free. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) provides this service. Car seat inspections are a part of the ongoing California Restraint Safety Education and Training (CARSEAT) III campaign.
The dates and times for car seat inspections vary, and you may need to schedule an appointment. Call your local CHP office for details on when and where you can get your car seat install inspected.
*This article was updated on 4/24/2020
Seat 2018 front california law
According to California State Law, Children must be seated in the rear seat of a vehicle in an appropriate car seat or booster seat until they are 8 years old or 4’9″ tall. Children must remain in a rear facing car seat until they weigh 40 pounds or more or are at least 40 inches tall.
People from San Diego and Los Angeles all the way up to Sacramento will be happy to know that the 2018 car seat laws are the same as they were in 2017. However, it is important to note that new laws took affect January 1, 2017. And, of course, there are tens of thousands of new parents in California every year. If you are one of them, congratulations!!
Children under 2 years old:
Children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat they weigh 40 pounds or more or are at least 40 inches tall.
Children shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.
Best infant car seat:
The Chicco Keyfit Infant Car Seat and Base with Car Seat is, according to Consumer Reports, the #1 rated car seat in America for infants. This car seat is amazing for infants but does max out at 30 inches of height. It comes with inserts for newborns.
You can purchase the Chicco Keyfit infant seat on Amazon Prime right now here: http://amzn.to/2hlKihC.
Best rear facing convertible seat for California’s laws:
Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat meets the height/length requirement of 40″ and in fact supports children up to 49″ tall. Buy it on Amazon Prime here: http://amzn.to/2DZl6HM. After 40lbs, the seat supports children in the forward facing position up to 65lbs. This car seat provides your child with the maximum amount of legroom possible.
Ask anyone who owns this car seat if they like it and they will say YES. It’s under $170 delivered and grows with your child.
Forward facing in California
Children can move to a forward facing car seat once they have outgrown the legal limits and manufacturer’s specifications for the rear facing car seat. Keep in mind that children under the age of 2 are 500% safer in a rear-facing car seat than a forward facing car seat.
Booster Seats in California
A child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harnesses. This usually occurs around 65 pounds.
No more car seat
Once children reach 8 years of age OR have reached 4’9” in height, they may graduate from the booster seat to a safety belt, however, children are safest in a booster seat until they are 4’9″.
All passengers of all ages are subject to California’s Mandatory Seat Belt law.
The January 1, 2017 Car Seat Law
Effective January 1, 2017, the State of California mandated that children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall. This is a good law and all states should follow suit. That’s because children can’t support their heads in accidents and suffer serious injuries and deaths in cars every day which could have been prevented if they were in a rear-facing car seat. Science and statistics show us that injuries are drastically reduced when children are in rear facing car seats until they are 24 months of age.
- The Top Rated Rear Facing Car Seats for 2018.
- Child Safety Belt and Passenger Restraint Requirements – California Vehicle Code Section 273630
- Exceptions for emergencies, medical conditions, emergency vehicles and vehicles with no rear seats -California Vehicle Code Section 27363
- California DMV’s Driver Handbook’s page on Child Restraints
- NHTSA’s page to find a free car seat safety checkpoint near you, often available at nearby fire departments and children’s hospitals: NHTSA Car Seat Inspection
- Get a free inspection at a California Highway Patrol office. Find the nearest CHP office here.
California Highway Patrol also put together this great video:
When can my child sit in a booster seat in California?
In California, a child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harnesses. This usually occurs around 65 pounds, but be sure to read the forward-facing car seat’s owner’s manual to determine height and weight limits.
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