In this post, I have shared detailed guidance on California car seat laws including booster seat laws, rear-facing, forward-facing, and other key topics including using car seats after accidents in California, using car seats in taxis, California car seat weight limits, height limits, and much more.
About California Car Seat Laws and History
Apart from featuring miles of spectacular coastline, California is also interconnected by a network of nearly 400,000 miles of road. All of the roads are governed by strict laws on the use, management, and penalties regarding child safety seats. Following the rules is mandatory irrespective of where you are, even if you’re just having a stroll in the neighborhood.
California Car Seat Law (California Vehicle Code 27360) requires that all children below 2 years be in the rear-facing seats in the back seat at all times. If the child has not met the height and weight requirements (40 inches tall and 40 pounds heavy), even after the age of two, they are required by the law to continue riding in the rear-facing seat.
Unfortunately, one of the latest surveys including one we conducted on our social media pages revealed that approximately 25% of the parents in California do not strap their babies into their car seats properly when driving for a mile or less. However, if you have plans to forgo the car seat, you will hate knowing that a study by progressive Insurance found that about 52% of the car accidents in the U.S occur in 5-mile proximity from the driver’s home. Going for a short trip doesn’t necessarily mean that your risk of an accident is lower.
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) provides professional car seat inspection services if you are not sure it is properly installed. However, you may need to book an appointment as the dates and times of car seat inspections vary. You can contact your local CHP office and enquire on when and where you could get your car seat inspected.
California Car Seat Laws Front-Facing
Once a child reaches the maximum height and weight requirements to sit in the front-facing seats and is at least two years of age, the law in California allows you to switch them from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat. However, you should make sure that the front-facing car seat you switch them to has a five-point harness. The seat also features weight and height requirements as well. You will find them in the user manual: be sure to strictly follow them.
Never switch a child to the front-facing car seats at the front seat. Children particularly stand a high risk of serious injury or even death from the airbags upfront. Generally, a child qualifies to move to a front-facing car seat when they are 4 years old. You should make sure to not mistake the front-facing seats for the front seats; children should not be moved to the front seat until they attain the minimum age of 8 years and the minimum safety belt height of 4’9”.
Luckily for most of the parents out there, manufacturers today make convertible car seats. That means you can easily convert your rear-facing seat into a safe front-facing seat as your child grows. It is, however essential to take note of California Seat Law requirements before converting your rear-facing seat into a front-facing seat.
California Car Seat Laws Rear Facing
By California law, all children below the age of two years, less than 40 inches tall, and below 40 pounds, should ride in a rear-facing car seat. It should be noted that the California Car Seat Laws do not require the use of a restraint system on children; it insists that the child must be properly installed.
That means that the lap belt must be tied low across the hips and touch the upper thighs of the child. It also requires the shoulder belt to cross at the center of the child’s chest. To put it simply, make sure the belt is a perfect fit for your child and that it is not just connected. While some of these laws may sound like overkill, they were put in place for good reason.
California Car Seat Laws Booster
In California, Booster seats are required for children between the ages of four and eight years and should continue using booster seats even past the age of 8 if they have not met the safe seatbelt height requirement of 4’9”. The reason behind this law is that, at these ages, most children have gained the weight and height sufficient for the seatbelt straps to sit across their chest and lap securely.
While the law requires children to ride in the back seat until they are eight years old, it is not advisable to be in a hurry to move them to the front seat. It is also not legal to have a rear-facing seat in the front seat. However, it is acceptable to carry a properly restrained child or baby in the front seat if:
- The vehicle has no back seats, like a truck or two-seater
- The back seat is already fully occupied with younger children
- The backseats are broken or in a condition that makes it dangerous to install the car seat in the rear seats
- The back seats are side-facing or rear-facing jump seats
If your child has attained the safe height for wearing a seat belt, it is still not wise to have them ride in the front seat, though we might want them next to us along the ride. The back seats are always more secured than the front seats in the case of accidents. Additionally, airbags pose a great danger to children in these instances.
Most drivers and car owners are not aware of the danger posed on young children in their vehicles when in transit. Seatbelts are not designed for their little bodies so most of the time they won’t fit well and are very likely to lead to severe injuries on the delicate young ones. However, they grow up so fast and in no time, they outgrow the rear-facing seat. After moving your child to the front-facing seat and eventually outgrowing it, a booster seat is usually the subsequent step.
California Car Seat Law 2 Seater
If your vehicle is a two-seater, the law in California forbids carrying children below the age of 8 years. According to the law, children below this age are not a good fit for safety belts. Your child might also not have attained the safe height for wearing safety belts even after hitting this age and hence you will have to make sure they are at least 4’9” tall before they can ride in your 2-seater.
If your child has met these height and weight requirements, you will still have to make sure your safety belt system is installed properly and in top working condition. That’s because even after they have attained the recommended height, the belt might still not fit them correctly exposing them to danger when the vehicle is involved in an accident or has to stop suddenly.
California has instituted some of the most comprehensive laws on car seats. Some of the guidelines on child seatbelt safety that you will need to observe before taking your child for a ride in your 2 Seater include:
- The lap belt must rest low on the hips. And touch the upper thighs
- The Seat belt must rest easily across the center of the child’s chest
- The child’s legs must be long enough to bend over the car seat at the knees
California Car Seat Law Height and Weight
The California Car Seat Law requires that a child be forty pounds or more in weight and forty inches tall before they can be moved to a front-facing car seat. At this weight, your child should be four years of age give or take.
While most people are aware of the age at which their children should shift from a rear-facing car seat to a front-facing back seat and from the booster seat through to the front car seat, most of them remain ignorant of the weight and height car seat requirements in California. However, these are the most essential details to take note of, as they apply to the real world and not to the law alone.
After your child has outgrown the front-facing seat, you can move them to a booster seat. The California seat law requires that children be moved to the booster seat between the ages of 4 years and 8 years, after having met the height and weight requirements.
According to the height and weight seat law, your child can only graduate to the front seat if he reaches 4’9” and is at least eight years of age. I would, however, recommend graduating them at the age of twelve, especially if they have not met the height and weight requirements. That not only saves you the penalty of breaking the California Car Seat Law but also safeguards your child from injury in the case of an accident.
California Car Seat Law Penalties
Needless to say, violating the California seat laws puts your child at risk of serious injury. You should make sure to follow the set out laws to the best of your ability. Apart from safeguarding your children from injury, you will be avoiding penalties you may receive for any violations.
People who are caught violating the California car seat laws will get a ticket on the spot. A single ticket on car seat laws can cost you as much as $500 for each of the children you are carrying in the vehicle. If you are found to be carrying multiple children without the required harnesses, you will feel the pinch, and I think you should.
That’s not all; the fines assigned in a second arrest for breaking California car seat laws are double. It is pretty easy to find yourself paying $1,000 for ignoring car seat laws in California. It will only cost you $200 to purchase a car seat. Do the math, and choose wisely.
If the parent of the child is in the vehicle that was found without the proper harnesses, the ticket is handed to them. If the parent is not in the vehicle at the moment of the violation, the driver will have to take the heat of the penalties.
California Car Seat Laws Taxi/Uber & Airport Shuttle
While we all know too well of the danger posed to children without properly installed car seats or booster seats, the laws generally fail to apply to taxi/Uber cabs and Airport shuttles among other for-hire car services.
Every state in the U.S. has laws governing child car seat safety. Though taxi/ Uber cab operators are exempt from being required to feature safety seats or proper harnesses in their cars, some states, such as California, do require passengers to follow seat belt rules while driving. All passengers in California are also expected to provide the proper harness system for their children if they are less than 8 years of age.
Children who have attained the safe seatbelt height (4 feet and 9 inches) and weigh more than 40 pounds is allowed to use a lap belt in place of a child restraint system. While cab operators are not required by the law to install any child safety systems in their vehicles, they are required to allow their passengers to install them in their cars before they begin the journey.
Fortunately, Uber is rolling out its convertible car seats technology in UberX. The project has only taken off in NYC, but it’s great news as we know to expect the system all over the country in no time. The Uber Car Seat Vehicles are, however, currently only equipped with one car seat per cab. If you are going to be carrying multiple kids, you will have to carry your own harness system to keep your kids safe.
California Car Seat Law Changes
Beginning January 1, 2017, California mandated the California Seat Law to safeguard children from the dangers of road accidents. Supported by science, statistics show that injuries have been drastically reduced since the institution of the law.
There have been a couple of changes over the years in the California car seat laws. The new car seat laws were initially posted on the California DMV website in December 2017. It was as a result of the California Senate Bill #20, popularly known as SB20. Below are the most recent changes to the California Car Seat Law.
California Car Seat Law 2018
Beginning on the 1st of July, 2018, the California car seat law requires all passengers on a bus to be properly restrained using a safety belt. The law also insists that children at least the age of eight years and below 16 years old be restrained properly using a safety belt or appropriate child passenger harness system according to the federal safety standards.
Car Seat Laws in California 2020
According to the car seat laws in California 2020, children must remain in the rear seat of a vehicle on the appropriate rear-facing car seat or booster seat until they are 4’9” tall or 8 years old. According to the law, children must also attain a weight of 40 pounds and a height of 40 inches to be shifted from the rear-facing seat during travel. It is good news to California parents to know that the rules have not changed since 2018. However, there are thousands of parents to little kids in California, and if you are one of them, be sure to offer them the best protection by following the California car seat laws.
California Law Car Seat Replacement after an Accident
Insurance firms often refuse to replace child safety car seats after accidents. Mostly, they will refuse replacements claiming either the seats do not appear damaged or that the law does not require them to replace the car seat if the child was inside the vehicle at the time of damage.
However, the California Insurance Code requires that all child safety seats be replaced if they have been caused by an accident. According to the law, visual examination of the extent of damage to the seat is not sufficient grounds to refuse child car seat replacement.
While the law is not expected to affect the insurance firms significantly, most manufacturers take on the challenge of making child safety seats that can withstand the force of a 30 mph crash. If used as recommended, these seats have the ability to reduce the risk of infant death by 71% and by 54% for kids younger than 4 years of age.
The NHTSA also requires all child safety seats to be replaced after a non-minor collision. According to the NHTSA, non-minor accidents are those that fit the definition below:
- The vehicle was driven out of the accident spot
- The car door next to the child safety seat was no damage
- None of the occupants of the vehicle sustained any injuries
- The air bags did not deploy
- The safety seat did not sustain any visible damage
Most manufacturers strongly recommend replacing the child safety seats after a collision even if there appears to be little or no damage to the child safety car seat on the surface. That’s essential because the impact of the accident might have done structural damage to the child’s safety car seat which may hinder it from properly protecting the child in the event of a crash or sudden stop.
California Car Seat Expiration Law
Did you know that in the U.S. child protection seats expire? Yes, you got that right; there is a set-out date of expiry for each car seat installation. An expired car seat poses a risk of injury to your child in case of a sudden stop or crash as it might not function as it was meant to.
A car seat endures temperature changes, wear and tear, and degradation of the construction materials over time. A single weakness could mean that the seat loses its ability to withstand a collision. Most car seat manufacturers put the manufactory/ expiration dates with the serial number on the car seat. However, you may also find the expiration date of your car seat in the owner’s manual. If you have looked for your car seat’s expiration date but can’t seem to find it, it is recommended that you replace the car seat after a maximum of six years from the manufacturer’s date. You could save a buck by keeping the outdated car seat, but in doing so you put your child’s life in danger.
California Car Seat Law for 5-year-old
As stated earlier in the article, children typically switch out of the rear-facing car seat into a front-facing rear car seat at the age of four. However, it is recommended that you make sure your child has reached the height of 40 inches and the weight of 40 pounds before moving them to a front-facing car seat. Most California parents move their children to the front-facing car seat around the age of five years.
California Car Seat Law 8 years old
At the age of eight, your child is allowed by the California car seat law to graduate from the front-facing rear seat and into the front seat. However, it is not recommended to switch your child to the front seat even at the age of eight, if they have not reached the belt safe height (4’9”). Typically, parents switch their children to the front seat around the age of twelve. You should also make sure to follow the safety belt laws strictly to continue safeguarding your child’s life as they continue to grow.
Kate Nash is a mother of two and a child mobility expert with a great passion for educating parents about car seat safety. She writes a lot about the changing car seat safety laws in different states and the safety rating of different infant and convertible car seats based on NHTSA and CR safety ratings. She is knowledgeable on all car seats, travel systems, and strollers available in North America. She is a recognized baby gear expert and can be reached on her email, email@example.com.