Here are the updated car seat laws for 2021. And a list of bills that did not make it to law.
Remember the state car seat laws are generally the minimum standard for car seat use. For safer travels with your little one, familiarize yourself with best practice recommendations and perhaps visit with a local child passenger safety technician to discuss your specific needs.
Updated car seat laws 2021
AB118 added some clarification about how long a child must use a child restraint, changing weight and age for height and age. It also detailed that children under age 2 shall use a rear facing child restraint in the back seat. This law went into effect January 1, 2022.
What it was: Children who are less than 6 years of age and who weigh 60 pounds or less shall be secured in a child restraint system which has been federally approved, is appropriate for the size and weight of the child and is installed within and attached safely and securely to the motor vehicle in accordance with the instructions for installation and attachment provided by the manufacturer of the child restraint system.
What it is now: Any passenger who is less than 6 years of age and less than 57 inches tall must be secured in a child restraint system which has been federally approved, is appropriate for the size and weight of the child and is installed within and attached safely and securely to the motor vehicle in accordance with the instructions for installation and attachment provided by the manufacturer of the child restraint system.
- Children younger than age 2 must be restrained in a rear-facing child restraint system in the back seat of the vehicle, unless the front seat passenger’s airbag is deactivated and: special health care needs require them to sit in the front seat and they have a written statement from their doctor, or all back seats are occupied by other children who are less than age 2, or there are no back seats.
- All children age 6 and older can sit in the front or rear seat and must use a seat belt if one is available for that seating position.
Now this is not best practice. Best practice indicates a child should use a child restraint until the child can pass the 5-step seat belt fit test which is typically when a child is 57″ tall regardless of age. It also indicates children should remain rear-facing until the upper limits of their child restraint and children under the age of 13 should sit in the back seat of the vehicle.
I saw several news stories that said a new law went into effect January 1, 2022 for Texas. I was unable to find much detail but it appears that the law is the same but they increased the amount parents can be fined. (If anyone has any additional details, please contact us.)
Download our report: Common Car Seat Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Seat belt laws
The new seat belt law requires that every passenger in the car, no matter where they’re sitting or how old they are, must wear a seat belt. The previous law said the only people who need to buckle up in the back are people under the age of 16. This law went into effect September 2021.
Perhaps next year
- Nebraska: State Sen. Robert Hilkemann proposed several bills over the last few years to increase seat belt use and expand car seat requirements. The most recent in 2021 was to extend the seat belt requirement to all passengers of the vehicle. I couldn’t find a bill number and no further articles after it going to legislative committee last January.
- New Hampshire: House Bill 251 proposed to require children under two years old to be in a rear-facing car seat in a vehicle, but allows exceptions if the child’s size and weight exceed manufacturer’s recommendations. After being amended to an act establishing a committee to study requiring New Hampshire children to be placed in rear facing restraints in motor vehicles, it was passed. So no updated car seat law yet.
Arizona Family wrote about a bill proposing to require children to remain in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 years old, similar to last year’s HB2589. However, I could not find a 2021 bill number to track and no further articles about the bill.
Senate Bill 380 proposed to raise the age children are required to use boosters or car seats up until age 7. After passing in several committees the bill later died in the House messages in April.
Florida did pass a new law that requires all daycare vehicles to install safety alarms in vehicles. This is to reduce hot car deaths by alerting the driver of the children still in the back seat when they leave the car.
HB 1257 proposed adult drivers and occupants would no longer have to buckle up in the car. Though the safety measure would have still been mandatory for those under 18. Rep. Jeff Magrum said his bill aimed to reflect the idea that the government shouldn’t be tasked with protecting residents from themselves. The bill did not pass. Also SB2121, which wanted to make the seat belt law a primary enforcement, failed.
The House defeated HB23 to require rear-facing car seats for children under age 2 and increased fines for people violating child safety restraint requirements.
Previously updated car seat laws extending rear facing
- in 2015
- New Jersey
- in 2016
- in 2017
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- in 2018
- in 2019
American Academy of Pediatrics increased the national standard to at least age 2 back in 2011. And states have gradually been increasing the rear-facing age requirement to up to 2 years old. However, more recently the American Academy of Pediatrics increased the standard again. Now they recommend what car seat experts have been expressing for years: keep the car seat rear-facing for as long as possible until the maximum height or weight allowed by the seat is reached.
You can see the remainder of the car seat laws by state here.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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