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The Best Child Road Safety Laws by State

child restraint laws

Many states have a variety of safety laws in place that are designed to keep their youngest residents safe, but some are doing a better job of protecting their most vulnerable residents than others.

The best states for child safety on the road have been evaluated according to three key characteristics: child booster state laws and seat belt requirements, bike helmet laws, and laws for teen drivers. Each of these areas provides a vital level of safety for the children within its borders.

child restraint laws

Child Restraint and Seat Belt Laws

California, New Jersey, and Oklahoma have the strictest child safety laws for younger children: they require children younger than two to use rear-facing car seats to provide an extra level of protection in the event of an accident.

Other states are expected to follow suit, as American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children remain rear facing for as long as possible but at least until the age of 2 for many years now. Children are 5 times safer in rear-facing seats.

car seat safety newsletter

48 states, DC, and Puerto Rico require seat belt positioners for children who have outgrown their child safety seats but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely. In general, these seats are legally required for any child between the ages of four and eight—longer, in many states.

(Safe Ride 4 Kids note: The law is often a minimum compared to best practice recommendations. A child should remain in a seat belt positioning device like a booster seat or RideSafer Travel Vest until the child can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test which is usually when the child is 4’9” (57”) For many children, this doesn’t happen until the child is more than 8 years of age. How the seat belt fits is more about height than age or weight as many states’ laws call for. This also can depend on the car the child is riding in.)

Some states are even taking their seat belt requirements to a broader level: in California, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana, and New York, school buses must also be equipped with seat belts. Texas hasn’t gotten on board with retrofitting all of the old buses, but it does require that those purchased after September 2010 have seat belts for the passengers.

Bike Helmet Laws

Bicycle helmets are one of the most important pieces of protective gear that can be provided to a child, says NY traffic ticket lawyer Zev Goldstein, especially one who might venture out onto the street.

In California and New Mexico, they’re taking it seriously: any bikers under the age of 17 are required to wear a helmet in order to ride their bikes. New Jersey drops that age limit to sixteen, while Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Maine, and Oregon, along with six others, require that anyone under the age of 15 wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.

29 states, however, have no helmet law at all, allowing young riders to use their bikes without helmets at their parents’ discretion.

Teen Driver Laws

Getting that all-important driver’s license at sixteen is one of the most critical milestones in the lives of many teens. Unfortunately, it’s also become a death sentence for thousands of them each year.

Read up on the teen driving stats

To help with these numbers, many states have chosen to restrict their teenage drivers until they’re older, giving these teens the time and experience needed to develop more skill and confidence behind the wheel. These restricted or graduated driver’s license programs for younger drivers may include restricting the hours when a teenager is allowed to drive without an adult passenger over the age of 21, limiting the number of non-familial passengers who can be in the car, or stricter rules governing the use of cell phones and other communication devices. Strict graduated driver’s license requirements can have a significant impact on the number of teen driver fatalities in the state.

Currently, the five states with the best requirements are Washington, Delaware, Oregon, Illinois, and Louisiana.

Parents and law enforcement officials are charged with protecting young lives. Car seat safety laws, helmet laws, and even driver laws are often inconvenient, and parents find themselves trying to circumvent them when possible.

Getting a child in an out of a rear-facing car seat is hard. So is hauling around a booster seat every time a child changes cars. Getting a child to wear a helmet every time they get on a bike feels all but impossible. As for teen driver laws, it would be so much easier to simply send a teen on their way no matter the hour or how many other passengers there are in the car.

These laws, however, are designed to keep vulnerable young people safe when they’re on or near the road—and that makes them well worth upholding.

Guest post: Fay Niselbaum is a content specialist at The Law Office of Zev Goldstein PLLC. Fay loves cooking, blogging, and spending time with her family.

Copyright 2015 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.


  1. Do strict bike helmet laws translate into fewer brain injuries and fatalities when cycling?

    While I admittedly know little about laws for youth cycling, much of what I’ve read about mandatory adult helmet laws indicate that they tend to discourage cycling, since the effect of such laws is to simply discourage people from cycling. That translates to less safety, as one of the most direct correlations for safe cycling conditions is the “safety in numbers” effect.

    It’s a little counterintuitive, but if a well-intentioned helmet law is actually putting a stigma on cycling and encouraging teenagers to get behind the wheel of a car rather than ride their bicycle, we should look a little deeper into what laws work to get the safest results.

    I assume that scientific analysis of youth helmet laws and adult helmet laws are vastly different (and I imagine the science gets especially fuzzy at the boundary between youth and adulthood) but please don’t assume that stricter is better without also looking into the safety records of those individual states to see if the laws are successful in preventing injury and death.

    And let’s look beyond our borders, too. When it comes to having safe streets and low vehicle-related fatalities per capita, a simple chart on Wikipedia will show clearly that we’ve got a bit to learn about what methods work well for making our streets safer.

    1. Thank you for sharing that different perspective with our readers. I will forward your comment to the guest author who wrote it.

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