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Car Seat Laws for Older Kids, Are They Working?

Car Seat Laws for Older Kids

As a parent, car seats have been a part of your life since your child came into the world. You’ve followed the guidelines from rear-facing to forward-facing, and mastered the ins and outs of seat belt attachments and anchors. Your children are likely to be pros at the routine. As your child gets older, you will have questions about the laws that cover the use of booster seats or seat belts for bigger kids.

You may not be aware that these can vary by state. What is legal in Idaho may not be legal in Colorado. Which may lead you to wonder, as your child gets older: What are the best practices, and why doesn’t everyone use them?

Car Seat Laws for Older Kids

As a concerned parent, you are also likely to ask why you’re still seeing your children’s peers improperly secured in their own cars, and why the laws aren’t always enforced. Furthermore, what if your own child is involved in an accident in a collision with another driver and is injured? What are your own responsibilities?

It turns out that there are several factors involved. Read on to find out more information about them.

There are no national standards

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Although the American Academy of Pediatrics has developed guidelines for children through adulthood, the laws don’t follow any one set of standards. As children get too large for their forward-facing seats, the AAP recommends that they graduate to a booster seat.

This is based on the simple fact that regular car safety belts are designed for larger adults. The general age and size for a child to use a seat belt safely and correctly arrives at between 8 and 12 years old.

The laws aren’t well-defined

States have raised the age requirements for car seats steadily over recent decades. They have not, however, tightened up the language of the laws, and they can become somewhat ambiguous. California law, for example, doesn’t address when a child should graduate from a harness system to a booster seat — instead advising that the height and weight limits listed in the manual for the harnessed be followed.

In other words, it’s not always easy to enforce the laws. Once children reach age 8 or so, it’s complicated to factor in age, weight and manufacturer specifications for their safety seats.

The compliance rate will always vary

Even with laws in place for car seats, there are differences in who will follow them religiously. A 2017 study from Ohio State University found that families who were compliant with car seat recommendations from the outset will continue to follow the safety standards and laws as their child gets older. Families who left their children unrestrained were unlikely to change their habits, even when the laws expanded to included older children.

The same study found that the amount of the fines really had no difference in the compliance rate. Even though the laws may change in a state, behavior does not.

There’s parent confusion about the recommendations

Even well-meaning parents can get confused about what the latest recommendations are for car seat safety. Furthermore, there’s a lack of knowledge about how they should be properly used and installed. The United States Department of Transportation has an excellent breakdown of car seat types and help with the terminology related to child restraints.

Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them

When in doubt, parents can refer to the American Association of Pediatric guidelines mentioned above. Even if state laws aren’t clear, the AAP guidelines are. It’s quite possible that your state has only the minimum requirements.

There’s a lack of public education

Often, there’s a disconnect between passing a law, and getting the information out to the public. As the laws change, especially concerning older children, they may not become common knowledge right away.

For example, the State of Nebraska updated their requirements at the beginning of 2019. Car set technician training and safety checks for residents will continue to be rolled out through the year. Despite the best effort of any state, it’s difficult to get the information out to every single resident.

As a parent, you want to protect your child in your vehicle and obey the state laws about child restraints. You also want their peers to be safe out on the road. Understanding the law, educating yourself about the best practices concerning booster seats and restraints, and keeping up with recommendations can raise a lot of questions. Although the new laws can be difficult to enforce, it’s always in your child’s best interests for you to follow the government recommendations, even if the law in your state does not follow them to the letter.

Guest post: Scott Distasio is the founder of a personal injury firm in Tampa. His career focus is on all types of personal injury cases. His work represents his belief that all firms should provide outstanding service to their clients. Follow @scottdistasio on Twitter to see what legal wisdom he shares next.

Copyright 2019 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

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  1. Back in Dec 2018 I was doing a lot of research due to a situation that arose from my daughter’s boyfriend in which I felt was unsafe carseat usage. I’ve had a set of twins in 1990 and 2000 HUGE difference in knowledge and carseats. As my second set got older I would research carseat safety more and try to find the strictest laws, requirements, extra. My children are my world.
    Now back to Dec. The carseat he was using had a piece either missing or broken, the kid was 16 mth old, approx 25 lbs, and he faced her forward. The cops in Idaho said all this was OK. I was in complete shock! So rather than tell him what I thought, I did even more research and sent him the link to an article via fb msg. In turn he removed me as his fb friend. He told my daughter that what he was doing was OK and he didn’t care what anyone else said.
    While researching I learned how there is no standard, it’s vague, Basically, EVERYTHING you just listed.
    This has to change. These are our children, our babies, there needs to be a national standard.,more public education, clearer laws.

    1. Hi Michelle, It would be great if lawmakers could be more specific and clear for parents who don’t otherwise research and follow best practice. Unfortunately there are also down sides to being specific. For one, lawmakers are not car seat experts and in some states where they do use more specific language, the law actually makes some best practice recommendations technically “illegal”. For instance, Kentucky requires children to use a booster seat starting at age 4. Not only does this leave out alternatives like the RideSafer but also makes it “illegal” to continue using a 5-point harness which would be safest. For another, car seat safety is not always a one size fits all. Depending on the child, the car, how many other children are in the car, these can make following one set rule difficult. In your specific situation in Idaho, he is within the law to forward face the child. Remember even though it was a police officer (we honor and thank you for your service police) but that doesn’t mean he was trained in car seat safety so he may not have been aware of best practice recommendations or known what to look for on the seat.

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