California Car Seat Laws

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California’s traffic safety laws are put to the test with tens of thousands on the roads every day.  When driving, the safety of any children in the car is paramount, and the state of California has a helpful set of laws and guidelines so you know the right time to put your child in a car seat or booster seat and when to let them use a seatbelt as they grow bigger.

California car seat laws keep children safe and are designed to ensure minimum damage to children in the event of a minor or even serious accident involving the vehicle. Children who are properly protected with the right use of car seats are safer and legally compliant.

What are the California car seat laws for children in each age category? Let’s explore.

Children Under 2 Years Old

Children under 2 years old in California should ride in a rear-facing car seat that is properly secured. Rely on the specs and instructions from the manufacturer to make sure your child fits the height and weight requirements and the car seat is secured as intended. It is not mentioned in the law, but your instructions will tell you never to place the rear-facing car seat in the front passenger’s seat. Always secure it in the back, and not in the center seat.

Small children over 2 years old who are under 40 lbs. or under 40 inches tall must also ride in a rear-facing car seat.

California Vehicle Code Section 27360

The law says: The parent, guardian or driver “shall properly secure the child in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system that meets applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards, unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches tall.”

In simplest terms, until children are at least two years old, weigh 40 lbs. and 40 inches tall, they must ride in a rear-facing car seat in a manner that complies with the manufacturer.

Children Between 2 and 8 Years Old

Children older than 2 but younger than 8 can ride in a booster seat, and must always ride in the back seat. Children larger than 40 lbs., taller than 40 inches, and older than 2 years old can move up to the booster seat. This helps a child sit taller and make more complete use of their chest-strap seatbelt.

Some booster seats come with a five-point harness and these are best for younger children who may still be too small for the seatbelt.

Booster seats and children under 8 years old are not legal in the front seat unless there is no back seat available, if younger children are occupying the back seat already, or if there’s a valid medical reason.

Children 8 Years Old or 4’9″ Tall

Children over 8 years old, and at least 4’9″, can choose to buckle up without the booster seat and may use the front seat. In California, children over 8 are permitted to sit up front and use just a seatbelt instead of a booster seat.

Passengers Over 16 Years Old

What about your kids as they become teens? Children between 8 and 16 can choose where to sit in the car and will, unless very small, typically ride without a booster seat. Once your kids hit 16, they are required to wear their seatbelts at all times when the car is moving and any exception for car seat safety belts will be closed.

California Vehicle Code 27315 VC

The law states “a person 16 years of age or over shall not be a passenger in a motor vehicle on a highway unless that person is properly restrained by a safety belt. This subdivision does not apply to a passenger in a sleeper berth.”

California’s car seat laws are meant to protect all vehicle passengers in the event of a collision. If you or your family have been injured in a car accident, contact Attorney Jeff Injury Lawyers today to discuss the compensation you may be entitled to.

California Car Seat FAQs

How long do kids have to stay in car seats in California?

Children up to 8 years old or 4’9″ need to be in some form of child restraint system, like a booster seat. Children under 2 years old must be in a rear-facing seat car seat.

What age can children sit in the front seat in California?

Children older than 8 years old or taller than 4’9″ can choose not to use a booster seat and to sit in the front seat.

My car doesn’t have a backseat. Can I still drive my child?

Yes. If your car doesn’t have a backseat or has an unusual backseat, you can place the car seat or booster seat up front.

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