What is the difference between child restraint law vs. best practice?
Most parents and caregivers assume the law is the safest and what is recommended by safety experts. However, this is not necessarily the case. States’ restraint laws are the result of compromises between the “best practice” recommendations of safety experts and provisions the legislators feel are practical, enforceable, and will be tolerated by the general public and their own constituents.
Occupant restraint laws should be considered to be minimum standards. The two biggest differences between what is legal versus what is recommended are:
- The laws are often based on age whereas “best practice” recommendations for the best crash protection are based on weight, height, physical development and the restraint used.
- Most state laws include exemptions which allow for children to ride unsafely under certain circumstances.
For instance, most states only require a child remain rear facing up to age 1. This is changing as a few states have recently passed laws requiring a child remain rear facing to age 2. Best practice states it is safer to ride in a rear-facing car seat and recommend keeping children rear facing for as long as possible but at least until age 2.
Another example is many states car seat laws only require children up to 8 years old use a children restraint (often at this age a booster seat). A few states don’t even go that old. Whereas best practice states that children should remain in a child restraint or seat belt positioning device up until they fit the seat belt correctly. This typically doesn’t happen until the child is 4’9″ tall which is usually around age 10 or even older.
The Safe Ride 4 Kids team researched all of the U.S. state car seat laws and deciphered the laws for parents so there is no misrepresentation of the law. We even link to the statutes if you want to read the actual legalese.
Be aware other websites, even official state agencies, may “simplify” the language and just say “booster seat” for “booster aged” children though the law likely will say “child restraint system.”
There is a big difference. For one, using a 5-point harness system longer is safer than putting a child into a booster seat. (A 5-point harness contacts more points of the body which helps spread the crash force out of as much of the body surface area as possible.) Also there are other legal seat belt positioning devices, like the RideSafer travel vest, that aren’t “booster seats.”
We want to know, do you follow the legal requirements or best practice recommendations? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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This post was originally published August 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.