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As a parent or guardian in California, you may be wondering what the laws are surrounding the use of car seats. Car seats play a vital role in keeping children safe during car rides. Failure to comply with California car seat laws isn’t just a safety risk–it can lead to penalties. To help you keep your child safe and stay in compliance with state regulations, here’s an overview of car seat laws in California.

What Are the Age and Weight Requirements for Car Seats in California?

car seat laws in California

Car seat policy in California is intended to maximize the safety of children while traveling in vehicles. The car seat laws in California specify age, weight and height requirements for different types of car seats to ensure that children are adequately protected.

  • Infant Car Seat Rules in California: Children under the age of 2 must be secured in a rear-facing car seat unless they weigh 40 pounds or more, or are 40 inches tall or taller. The car seat must be used according to the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer. 
  • Children Under 8 Years Old: Children who are younger than 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat located in the back seat of the vehicle. This ensures that they have the necessary protection suited to their size and developmental stage.
  • Children Aged 8 and Older or Over 4’9”: Once a child reaches the age of 8 or a height of 4’9”, they can transition to using a booster seat. At a minimum, these children must be secured with a standard safety belt. 
  • Passengers Aged 16 and Over: Individuals who are 16 years old and older are required to adhere to California’s Mandatory Seat Belt Law, which mandates the use of a safety belt.

When Can a Child Graduate to a Booster Seat?

California law does not specify an exact age or weight for when a child should transition from a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness to a booster seat. For safety reasons, it is advisable not to rush this transition. Each upgrade to the next stage in car seats generally reduces the level of protection, so it’s best to keep your child in each stage as long as possible.

A child is ready for a booster seat when they surpass the weight or height limits of their forward-facing harnesses, typically between 40 and 65 pounds. Refer to the forward-facing car seat’s owner’s manual to determine these limits and keep your child in a harnessed seat for as long as possible.

Children in the booster seat stage are not yet suitable for adult safety belts and should use belt-positioning booster seats until they are at least 4’9” in height and between 8 and 12 years old. Standard safety belts are designed for adult males weighing around 165 pounds, and improperly fitting belts can cause injuries to children.

When Can My Child Ride Without a Booster Seat in California?

Children in California can ride without a booster seat once they are at least 8 years old or have reached a height of 4’9″. However, parents and guardians must ensure that the vehicle’s seat belt fits the child correctly before making the switch. The seat belt should lie snugly across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and fit snugly across the shoulder and chest (not the neck or face).

It’s recommended to keep children in a booster seat until they can properly sit against the back of the seat with their knees bent at the edge of the seat and feet flat on the floor. This ensures the seat belt will provide maximum protection.

Can a 10-Year-Old Sit in the Front Seat in California?

Can a 10-Year-Old Sit in the Front Seat in California?

California law mandates that children aged 8 years or younger must ride in the back seat of a vehicle. However, there are certain exceptions where a child can legally sit in the front seat:

  • No Rear Seats: If your vehicle does not have rear seats, or the rear seats are side-facing jump seats, then your child may ride in the front seat.
  • Improper Fit: If the child restraint system cannot be correctly installed in the rear seat, such as when the rear seat only has lap belts but the booster seat requires a lap and shoulder belt, the child may sit in the front seat. For example, if your child is 5 years old, weighs 45 pounds, and needs a booster seat, they can sit in the front if there is no proper seat belt configuration in the back.
  • All Rear Seats Occupied: If all rear seats are occupied by children under the age of 7, then the older child may sit in the front.
  • Medical Reasons: If a pediatrician has provided a written note stating that the child should not be restrained in the back seat for medical reasons, the child may ride in the front. In such cases, it is safer for another adult to accompany the child in the back seat if possible.

Despite these exceptions, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration strongly recommends that children ride in the back seat until they are at least 13 years old for maximum safety.

Let Us Help You

By staying informed about car seat policy in California and following the proper guidelines, you can help protect your child on the road and ensure they are as safe as possible in the event of an accident.

If you would like to know more about the car seat law in California or if you need assistance following an accident, contact Sargon Law Group today. Our Phoenix car crash lawyers are here to support you and ensure your child’s safety and well-being are prioritized.