Child Passenger Safety Laws by State

Across the United States, child passenger safety laws regarding the four types of child restraints — rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, booster seats, and seat belts — vary significantly from state to state. For instance, some states require children to be in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least two years old, while others may have weight-based criteria. Similarly, the transition to forward-facing car seats and subsequently to booster seats is governed by differing age, height, and weight regulations.

Experts in child passenger safety, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are generally aligned that children should remain in some form of child restraint system until they are 4’9″ (i.e., 57″) and weigh 80 lbs. Further, the IIHS and NHTSA recommend children ride in a back seat until the age of 13.

However, the point at which a child can legally switch to using the adult seat belt are not consistent across all state-level jurisdictions. This patchwork of child passenger safety regulations means that caregivers must be diligent in understanding and complying with the child passenger safety laws specific to their state, or any states they plan to travel through.

State By State Child Passenger Safety Laws

Below, you will find a list of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with their corresponding child passenger safety laws, and a link to the relevant state law.

State Child Passenger Safety Laws Requirements Child Safety Law(s)
Alabama Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, or under 20 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 1-4 yrs, or 20-40 lbs
Booster Seat: Until 6 yrs
Seat Belt: 6-14 yrs
Ala. Code § 32-5-222
Alaska Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, or under 20 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 1-3 years, and 20 lbs or heavier
Booster Seat: 4-15 yrs, and 20-64 lbs or under 57″
Seat Belt: 4-7 yrs and 65 lbs or heavier or 57″ or taller, or 7-15 yrs and under 65 lbs or under 57″
A.S. § 28.05.095
Arizona Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, or under 20 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 1-5 yrs, and 20-40 lbs
Booster Seat: 5-7 yrs, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8 yrs, and 57″ or taller
A.R.S. § 28-907
Arkansas Car Seat (unspecified type): Under 6 yrs, and under 60 lbs
Seat Belt: 6-15 yrs, or 60 lbs and heavier
AR Code § 27-34-104 (2020)
California Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, and under 40 lbs or 40″ (following manufacturer instructions and in back seat)
Car Seat (unspecified type): Under 8 yrs, and under 57″ (or booster seat, following manufacturer instructions and in back seat)
Seat Belt: Under 16 yrs
VEH § 2736027363
Colorado Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, and under 20 lbs (in the rear seat)
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 1-3 yrs, and 20-40 lbs (rear or forward-facing child seat)
Booster Seat: 4-8 yrs
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs
C.R.S. § 42‑4‑236 and
C.R.S. § 42-4‑237
Connecticut Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, or under 30 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 2-4 yrs, or 30-40 lbs
Booster Seat: 5-7 yrs, or 40-60 lbs (only booster seats with lap and shoulder belt)
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, and over 60 lbs
House Bill 6956
Delaware Thru 6/29/2024:
Car Seat (unspecified type): Under 8 yrs, and under 66 lbs (restraint required)
Rear Seat: Under 12, and under 65″ (in rear seat)
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or 66 lbs and heavier

Effective 6/30/2024:

Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, and under 30 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: Under 4 yrs, and under 40 lbs
Booster Seat or Seat Belt: 4-16 (following manufacturer instructions, or seat belt if exceed height/weight limits)
Seat Belt: 4-16 (if exceed height and weight limit of booster seat)
Senate Bill 68
District of Columbia Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, or under 40 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 2-3 yrs, and under 30 lbs
Booster Seat: Under 8 yrs, and under 57″ (in back seat)
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs
D.C. Code § 50–1703
Florida Car Seat (unspecified): 5 yrs or under
Seat Belt: 6 yrs or older
2023 Florida Statutes
Georgia Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs, and 57″ or shorter (in rear seat, if available)
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs, or if over 57″, and 40 lbs or heavier (can use lap belt if lap/shoulder belt unavailable in rear seat)
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-76
Hawaii Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 2-4 yrs
Booster Seat: 4-7 yrs (booster seat or child restraint system with a harness)
Seat Belt: 7-9 yrs, and over 57″ (booster seat or child restraint system with a harness); or 10+ yrs
HI Rev Stat § 291-11.5
Idaho Car Seat (unspecified): Under 7 yrs
Seat Belt: 7 yrs and older
Idaho Statutes § 49-672
Illinois Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, unless 40 lbs or heavier or 40″ or taller
Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or over 40 lbs (can use lap belt if lap/shoulder belt unavailable in rear seat)
625 ILCS 25 – Child Passenger Protection Act
Indiana Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or 40 lbs or heavier (can use lap belt if lap/shoulder belt unavailable in rear seat)
IC 9-19-11
Iowa Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, and under 20 lbs
Car Seat (unspecified): 1-5 yrs
Seat Belt: 6-17 yrs
IA Code § 321.445 and IA Code § 321.446
Kansas Car Seat (unspecified): Under 4 yrs
Booster Seat: 4-8 yrs, and under 80 lbs or under 4’9″
Seat Belt: 8-14 yrs, or over 80 lbs or over 57″
K.S.A. 8-1344
Kentucky Car Seat (unspecified): 40″ or less
Booster Seat: 40″to 57″
Seat Belt: Over 57″
KRS 189.125
Louisiana Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, until reaches height or weight limit set by manufacturer
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 2 yrs, and exceeds height or weight limit for rear-facing
Booster Seat: 4-8 yrs, and exceeds height or weight limit for forward-facing car seat
Seat Belt: 9 or older, and exceeds height or weight limit for booster seat, and belt fits body correctly
Other: Under 13 in rear seat, if possible
LRS 32:295
Maine Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 2 yrs and less than 55 lbs (with an internal harness)
Booster Seat: Under 8 yrs, or less than 80 lbs, or less than 57″
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs, or under 18 and over 57″
Other: Under 12 in rear seat, if possible
MRS Title 29-A § 2081
Maryland Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, until reaches height or weight limit set by manufacturer
Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs, unless 57″ or taller
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or under 8 yrs and over 57″
MD Transp. Code § 22-412.2
Massachusetts Car Seat (unspecified): 7 yrs or under, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8-12 yrs, or 57″ or taller
90 MGL § 7AA
Michigan Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or 57″ or taller
Mich. Comp. Laws § 257.710d
Minnesota Car Seat (unspecified): 7 yrs or under, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8 yrs or over, or 57″ or taller
MN Statute 169.686
Mississippi Car Seat (unspecified): Under 4 yrs
Booster Seat: 4-6, and under 57″ or under 65 lbs
Seat Belt: 7 yrs, or 57″ and taller or 65 lbs or heavier
Mississippi Code § 63-7-301
Missouri Car Seat (unspecified): Under 4 yrs, or under 40 lbs
Booster Seat: 4-7 yrs, and 40-80 lbs and under 57″
Safety Belt: 80 lbs or heavier or 57″ and taller
MRS § 307.179
Montana Car Seat (unspecified): Under 6 yrs, and under 60 lbs
Seat Belt: 6 years and older, and 60 lbs and heavier
MCA § 61-13-103
Nebraska Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs until reach height or weight limit
Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs
R.R.S. Nebr. § 60-6, 267
Nevada Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs (in a back seat)
Car Seat (unspecified): Under 6 yrs, and less than 57″
Seat Belt: 6 yrs, and 57″ or taller
NRS 484D.495
New Hampshire Car Seat (unspecified): Under 7 yrs, and 57″ or shorter
Seat Belt: 7-17 yrs, or under 7 yrs and 57″ or taller
NH Rev. Stat. § 265:107-a
New Jersey Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, and under 30 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: Under 4 yrs, and under 40 lbs until reach height or weight limit
Booster Seat: Under 8 yrs, and under 57″ until height or weight limit reached
Seat Belt: 8 yrs, or 57″ or taller
NJ Statutes 39:3-76.2f
New Mexico Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, in a rear seat, if available
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 1-4 yrs, or under 40 lbs
Booster Seat: 5-6 yrs, or under 60 lbs
Seat Belt: 7-17 yrs
NMS 66-7-369
New York Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, or until reach height or weight limit
Forward-Facing Car Seat: Under 4 yrs, and under 40 lbs (can use lap belt if lap/shoulder belt unavailable in rear seat)
Booster Seat: Under 8 yrs (can use lap belt if lap/shoulder belt unavailable in rear seat)
Seat Belt: 8 yrs or older
NY VTL 1229-c
North Carolina Car Seat (unspecified): 7 yrs or under, and under 80 lbs
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or 40-80 lbs in seats without shoulder belts
NCGS § 20-137.1
North Dakota Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs, or under 8 yrs and 57″ or taller
ND Code Chapter 39-21-41.2
Ohio Car Seat (unspecified): Under 4 yrs, or under 40 lbs
Booster Seat: Under 8 yrs, over 40 lbs and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs
ORC § 4511.81
Oklahoma Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, or until reach height or weight limit
Car Seat (unspecified): Under 4 yrs
Booster Seat: 4-7 yrs, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8 yrs, or over 57″
OK Stat. § 47-12-417
Oregon Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs
Car Seat (unspecified): 40 lbs or less
Booster Seat: Required until 8 yrs, or over 40 lbs and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or over 57″
ORS 811.210
Pennsylvania Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, or until reach height or weight limit
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 2-3 yrs
Booster Seat: 4-7 yrs
Seat Belt: 8-18 yrs
PA Vehicle Code Ch. 45, Subchapter E, Section 4581
Rhode Island Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, and under 30 lbs
Car Seat (unspecified): 7 yrs and under, and under 80 lbs and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs; or, 7 yrs and under, and 80lbs or over 57″
R.I.G.L. § 31-22-22
South Carolina Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, or until reach height or weight limit
Forward-Facing Car Seat or Booster Seat: 2-8 yrs (secured by lap/shoulder belt; lap belt alone not permitted)
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs; or, 7 yrs or under, and 80lbs or over 57″
Other: 7 yrs or under in rear seat, if available.
S.C. Code § 56-5-6410
South Dakota Car Seat (unspecified): Under 5 yrs and under 40 lbs
Seat Belt: 8-18 yrs (seat belt, booster seat, or front-facing car seat)
SD Codified Laws Ch. 32-38-1
Tennessee Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr or under 20 lbs (following manufacturer instructions)
Rear or Forward-Facing Car Seat: 1-3 yrs (following manufacturer instructions)
Booster Seat: 4-8 yrs, and shorter than 57″ (following manufacturer instructions)
Seat Belt (rear seat, if available): Under 9 yrs and over 57″
Seat Belt: 9 yrs and over 57″
Other: Rear seat recommended for 9-12 yrs
Tennessee Code § 55-9-602
Texas Car Seat (unspecified): Under 8 yrs, or under 57″
Seat Belt: 8 yrs or older, or over 57″
Other: Children can sit in the front seat at 8 yrs or over 57″
TX Transp. Code Ch. 545.412 and 545.413
Utah Car Seat (unspecified): 7 yrs or under, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8-15 yrs, or 57″ or taller
UT Code 41-6a-1803
Vermont Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, or under 20 lbs (in rear seat, unless airbag deactivated in front passenger seat)
Car Seat (unspecified): 1-7 yrs, and over 20 lbs
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs, and over 20 lbs
23 VSA section 1258
Virginia Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs, or until reach height or weight limit
Seat Belt: 8-17 yrs (or 4-7 yrs with physician exemption)
VA Code 46.2-1095
Washington Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 2 yrs
Rear or Forward-Facing Car Seat: 2-4 yrs
Booster Seat: 4 yrs and older (until 57″)
Seat Belt: 57″ or taller, and adult belt fits properly (40lbs or heavier with only lap belt)
Other: Must ride in back seat up to 13 yrs, when practical
RCW 46.61.687
West Virginia Car Seat (unspecified): 7 yrs or under, and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8 yrs and older, and 57″ or taller
WV Code § 17C-15-46
Wisconsin Rear-Facing Car Seat: Under 1 yr, or under 20 lbs
Forward-Facing Car Seat: 1-3 yrs, and 20-40 lbs
Booster Seat: 4-7 yrs, and 40-80 lbs and under 57″
Seat Belt: 8 yrs or older, or over 80 lbs, or over 57″
Other:
 Under 4 yrs and less than 40 lbs, or if in rear- or forward-facing car seat, must be in rear seat, if available
WI Code § 347.48
Wyoming Car Seat (unspecified): 8 yrs or under (in rear seat, if available)
Seat Belt: 9 yrs or older
WY Statutes Title 31, Ch. 5, Article 13

 

Types of Child Passenger Safety Options

Rear-Facing Car Seats

Rear-facing car seats are designed for the youngest passengers and are essential for child passenger safety during a car ride. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that infants and toddlers remain in rear-facing seats until they reach the height or weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer. This position supports the child’s head, neck, and spine, providing superior protection in the event of a collision. Rear-facing car seats come in various forms to accommodate growing children from infancy through toddlerhood.

Infant Car Seat (Rear-Facing Only)

The infant car seat is specifically tailored for newborns and small infants. This compact and portable unit is designed solely for rear-facing use. Generally, infants outgrow these seats before reaching their first birthday. At which point, it is advisable for caregivers to transition to a convertible or all-in-one car seat, continuing with the rear-facing orientation.

Convertible Seat

Convertible seats are versatile child restraint systems that adjust from a rear-facing seat for infants and toddlers to a forward-facing seat with harness and tether for older children. One key advantage of convertible seats is their capability to accommodate children of different sizes, which enables extended use of the rear-facing position, providing enhanced safety during the child’s development.

All-in-One Seat

All-in-One car seats offer a comprehensive solution by morphing from a rear-facing seat suitable for infants and toddlers to a forward-facing seat with a harness and then to a booster seat for larger children. This type of seat accommodates varying child sizes, which also permits a longer duration of the rear-facing position, ensuring substantial protection as a child grows.

Forward-Facing Car Seats

Once a child outgrows the rear-facing seat, they graduate to a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether. These are designed to accommodate growing children and the harness secures the child, while the tether limits the forward movement in a crash. The NHTSA advises that children should stay in a forward-facing car seat as long as possible until they reach the maximum height or weight limit. Forward-facing car seats come in various forms, such as:

Convertible Seat

As children develop and outgrow their rear-facing seats, a convertible seat can be reconfigured to support a child in the forward-facing position using a harness and tether system. This adaptability ensures that as the child grows, the seat continues to provide safety and comfort.

Combination Seat

When a child is ready to move on from a rear-facing seat but still requires additional support, a combination seat offers an optimized solution. This seat initially provides a harnessed safety system in the forward-facing position and can later be converted into a booster seat to accommodate a larger child.

All-in-One Seat

The All-in-One seat is designed for longevity of use, supporting a child’s journey from infancy to the point where they are ready for a standard seat belt. It transitions seamlessly from a rear-facing seat to a harnessed and tethered forward-facing seat, and finally, to a booster seat tailored for older children. This seat adapts to a child’s growth, promising a secure fit at every stage.

Booster Seats

Booster seats are the next stage for children who have outgrown the forward-facing car seat. Booster seats raise the child to ensure the seat belt fits properly over the stronger parts of the child’s body. According to the NHTSA, booster seats are for children who are too big for car seats but not yet big enough to use a seat belt alone. They recommend the use of a booster seat until a seat belt can be properly positioned without it.

Booster seats are a critical transition tool for children who are aging out of forward-facing car seats but are not yet large enough to safely use the vehicle’s seat belt independently. Proper use and selection of a booster seat can drastically improve child passenger safety safety during travel. Further, failure to properly secure a child in a booster seat can lead to fines. Here are the various types of booster seats available:

High-Back Booster Seat

A high-back booster seat not only raises the child’s seating position for the seat belt to fit properly over their lap and shoulder but also provides integral support for the child’s neck and head. This is especially beneficial for child passenger safety in vehicles that lack built-in headrests or have lower seat backs.

Backless Booster Seat

For vehicles equipped with headrests, a backless booster seat is an appropriate choice. It elevates the child to ensure that the vehicle’s seat belt crosses their body at the correct points without offering additional head and neck support, assuming the vehicle’s design accommodates these needs.

Combination Seat

Combination seats offer versatile functionality, initially serving as a forward-facing seat with a harness for younger children. As the child grows, these seats can be converted into a booster seat, thereby adjusting to the child’s evolving size and safety requirements.

All-in-One Seat

An all-in-one seat provides a long-term safety solution, converting from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat with a harness and tether, and ultimately into a booster seat. This design adapts through the stages of a child’s growth, delivering a sustained fit and security throughout their development.

Seat Belts

Seat belts represent the final phase in child passenger safety and are intended for older children who have outgrown booster seats. The NHTSA indicates that a seat belt fits properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). It’s crucial to use a seat belt correctly as it drastically reduces the risk of injury or death in accidents.

Each of these child passenger safety options plays a critical role in protecting young passengers. Importantly, age, height, and weight requirements should be strictly adhered to, ensuring the safety device provides the intended level of protection.

Closing Thoughts on Child Passenger Safety Laws

Child passenger safety laws serve as a vital framework to safeguard our youngest travelers. Compliance with child passenger safety laws is not just a legal obligation, but a moral imperative to protect children’s lives and futures. These standards are based on countless research studies and real-world statistics that reflect the best practices in minimizing the risk of injury and death in vehicular accidents.

As caregivers, it’s our responsibility to stay informed and diligent, ensuring that our children are secured in the appropriate safety devices for every journey. It’s equally essential to advocate and support initiatives that aim to improve and update child passenger safety laws, keeping pace with advancements in safety technology and our evolving understanding of child passenger protection.

Woman buckling a child into a rear-facing car seat. Child Passenger Safety Laws by State (2024): Complete Guide

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