State Car Seat Laws for the U.S.

What Does Your State Require to Protect Your Baby or Toddler?

Mother fastening little girl into car seat
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Car seat and booster seat laws are set by each state within the United States. That can be confusing for parents and caregivers who travel between states often, or for families that move to a different state. What is required by the various state car seat laws when you're on vacation? How long does your toddler or elementary school student need to remain in a booster seat? State car seat and booster seat laws are also updated occasionally, so if you haven't looked at the requirements for a few years, they may be entirely different from what you used for an older child.

The complete list of state car seat laws is below. Before we get to the requirements for each state, let's talk about some of the phrases that commonly appear in the laws and what those might mean for you and your baby.

Proper Use

Many states now specify that parents must have their children in a properly used car seat or booster seat. There may be a phrase that says the car seat must be properly installed, and the law might reference the manufacturer's instructions as evidence of proper use or installation. Other laws say the child must ride in an "appropriate" car seat for the child's age and weight, meaning you're using it for a child who fits within the labeled weight, height, and age.

This "proper use clause" means that you must read those instructions because you are required by law to follow them. If a convertible car seat says you must use it rear-facing until baby weighs at least 22 pounds, then a state law with a proper use clause is essentially making that weight a legal requirement for that child in that car seat.

If a booster seat has a minimum weight limit of 40 pounds, you can't legally put a 30-pound child in it if your state has a proper use clause. If an infant car seat has a maximum height of 30 inches, it would not count as a legally appropriate car seat for a 34-inch long baby.

The proper use clause covers installation and other use, as well.

You must read and understand how to use the whole car seat according to manufacturer recommendations, from using the top tether to knowing when the car seat expires. If you want some help figuring out the specifics, head to a car seat inspection station or check lane to consult with a certified child passenger safety technician.

Federal Approval

While car seat laws are up to each state, the approval process of car seats and booster seats is covered by the federal government. Manufacturers do their own testing according to a set of federal standards before putting a car seat on the market. They self-certify that the car seat meets the standards, and then the federal government does spot checks to ensure compliance.

Some state laws mention that your child's car seat must be federally approved. That means it has been through the testing and certification process. It's rare for a car seat to make it to mass market in the U.S. if it doesn't meet the federal standards. This phrase in the state law is more likely to apply to you if you're using a car seat from a different country, you're using something that looks like a car seat but isn't (like a bassinet baby carrier with a handle) or you've tried to build your own car seat.

And/Or

There are many state car seat laws that have lists of requirements joined by "and," which generally means the car seat or your child should meet every item on the list to comply with the law. If the law says your child must be one-year-old and 20 pounds to use a forward-facing car seat, both requirements must be met. There are other requirements where "or" is used instead. In that case, only one of the requirements must be met to comply with the law. Booster seat laws often follow this pattern, where a child can legally move out of a booster seat when they reach 8 years old, or 80 pounds, or 4'9", whichever comes first. When state residents claim the updated booster seat laws would require a teenager or petite adult to ride in a booster seat, it's often because they've misread the "or" for "and."

What's Safest?

Although many state car seat laws do a reasonable job guiding parents in protecting babies and toddlers in the car, you should consider going beyond the requirements in most cases. For example, most states only require that infants stay in a rear-facing car seat until they're one year old and 20 pounds. Research and real-world crash data tell us that toddlers are five times safer if they stay rear-facing until they're at least two years old, though. There are convertible and 3-in-1 car seats available today that can accommodate a toddler rear-facing until age three or four. Car seat safety experts, and many manufacturers, now recommend keeping your child rear-facing until they reach the limits of the car seat.

Similarly, it's safest for children to remain in a forward-facing 5-point harness for as long as possible before moving to a booster seat, and to stay in a booster seat until they properly fit in the adult seatbelt using the 5-step test. The state car seat law may only require a harnessed car seat until age three or four, but car seats are available for much larger or older children. The harness spreads crash forces over a greater area of the body versus a seatbelt. For booster seats, a child who can legally move out of a booster seat at age 8 might be too small to fit well in a seatbelt and is at greater risk of serious injuries in a crash.

The laws of physics and crash dynamics don't change based on your state's car seat law. A child who is restrained according to best practices will be well-protected and in compliance with the laws in any state. Children who are not optimally protected are at higher risk of injury, even if they are in compliance with state law. Consider using your state car seat law as a bare minimum, and then go beyond it for the best possible protection.

Alabama

Alabama law requires children under the age of 6 be restrained in an appropriate, federally approved car seat or booster seat. Rear-facing car seats are required until at least age 1 and at least 20 pounds. Convertible or forward-facing car seats should be used until the child is at least 5 years old or weighs 40 pounds. Alabama law further requires that children ride in booster seats until at least age 6 and that they use seatbelts until at least age 15. This law was last updated in 2006.

Alaska

The state law in Alaska was updated in 2009. If your child is under a year old or weighs less than 20 pounds, they are required to ride in a rear-facing car seat. Then until four years old, the child must be properly restrained in an appropriate child restraint. Children who are between ages four and eight must ride in a booster seat (unless they are still riding in a harnessed car seat), unless they are taller than 4'9" or weigh more than 65 pounds. Alaska law requires all passengers to use a seat belt if they aren't in a child restraint.

Arizona

The law in Arizona requires all children under the age of eight to be properly restrained in a federally approved child restraint system appropriate for their age, height, and weight. Rear-facing car seats are recommended for children until at least age 2. Children over the age of five should ride in a booster seat until the age of 8 or reaching 4'9" in height. Car seat and seatbelt violations are a primary offense in Arizona, so officers can pull over vehicles and issue citations without other cause.

Arkansas

Arkansas laws require that children ages 6 and under, and weighing less than 60 pounds, be properly secured in a federally approved car seat or booster seat. Babies under the age of one and under 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat. If a child is at least age 6 and at least 60 pounds, but under age 15, Arkansas law requires that the a child uses a seat belt.

Colorado

Colorado law was updated in 2010 and requires that babies ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are one year of age and at least 20 pounds. Children ages one to four and between 20 and 40 pounds must ride in an appropriate rear- or forward-facing car seat. Children who are over age 4 but under age 8 must ride in a correctly used car seat or a booster car seat. Children who are not required to be in a car seat or booster seat, but are under 16 years old, must be buckled in a seat belt.

Delaware

Delaware law states that children through age seven or under 65 pounds be properly restrained in an approved car seat or booster seat appropriate for the child's age, weight and height. Children ages 8 through 15 must be properly buckled in a seat belt. Also, children under age 12 or under 65 inches tall must sit in the back seat if there is an active airbag in the front passenger seat. The fine for violations is $25.

Georgia

Updated in 2011, Georgia law requires children under age 8 to ride in a federally approved car seat or booster seat that is appropriate for that child's height and weight. These children must ride in the back seat unless they are taller than 57 inches, and their car seat or booster seat should be installed and used according to manufacturer's instructions. Officers may stop a vehicle and issue a citation if they observe a seat belt or car seat offense. Drivers can receive a $50 fine and a point against their license per improperly restrained child.

Hawaii

Hawaii law requires that all children under age four be restrained in a federally approved child safety seat. As of 2007, children ages four through seven must ride in a booster seat or car seat any time they are in a vehicle. Hawaii allows a $25 tax credit per year towards the purchase of proper child safety seats. This state is also progressive in terms of child passenger safety laws, requiring violators to attend a four-hour class in addition to a possible fine of $100 to $500.

Indiana

Indiana law requires children less than 8 years old to ride in a federally approved car seat or booster seat that is appropriate for the child's height and weight. The car seat or booster seat be installed and used according to the manufacturer's instructions. Infants under one-year-old and weighing less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat. Children ages 8 to 16 must ride in a seat belt. The state of Indiana strongly encourages parents to use best practices and to place children in the back seat whenever possible, though this is not required by law. Similarly, it is legal for a 30-pound

Iowa

Updated in 2010, Iowa law states that children up to 6 years old must be properly restrained in a federally approved car seat or booster seat that is appropriate for the child and is installed and used according to manufacturer's instructions. Babies under one year old and weighing less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat. From age 6 up to 11, children must use a car seat or the seat belt, and must continue using the seat belt until they are 18. Officers may stop vehicles for suspected violations. The misdemeanor fine for violations is $100. Teenage passengers may receive their own citations for not wearing seatbelts.

Louisiana

Louisiana law requires babies under one year of age and under 20 pounds to ride in a rear-facing car seat. Babies at least one year up to four years or 20 pounds up to at least 40 pounds must ride in a forward-facing car seat. Children ages four to six who weigh at least 40 pounds up to at least 60 pounds must ride in a belt-positioning booster car seat. Children over age 6 and 60 pounds, if they are not riding in a car seat, must use a lap/shoulder seat belt. Louisiana recommends that children who fall into more than one category by age and weight should be placed in the car seat that gives the most protection in a crash. Therefore, keep children rear-facing as long as possible, in a forward-facing harness to the limit of the car seat, and in a booster seat until the seatbelt fits.

Maine

Maine law requires babies and children weighing under 40 pounds to be properly secured in a federally approved car seat. Children under age eight and under 80 pounds to ride in a car seat or booster seat. Children under age 18 must wear seat belts if they are not in a car sat or booster seat, and children under age 12 and weighing less than 100 pounds must ride in a rear seat if possible.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts law requires that all children under age 8 and less than 57 inches tall be properly fastened and secured in a federally approved car seat or booster seat, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Children who are at least 8 years old or taller than 57 inches should use a vehicle seatbelt IF the seatbelt fits properly. Fit is defined as lap belt low and snug across the hips, shoulder belt across mid-chest and shoulder, back and hips against vehicle seat without slouching, knees bent over the edge of the seat and feet flat on the floor, and can stay in that position for the entire trip. This law was updated in 2008.

Michigan

Michigan law requires children under the age of 4 to ride in a car seat in the rear seat of the vehicle. If all rear seats are occupied by other kids under the age of 4, or there is no rear seat, the child may ride in the front seat and must still be properly restrained in the car seat. Children in rear-facing car seats can only ride in a vehicle seat with a frontal airbag if it is turned off. From age 4 until they are age 8, kids must be properly restrained in a car seat or booster seat. Children who are under age 8 but taller than 4'9" may use the vehicle seat belt. Children ages 8 to 16 must wear a seat belt no matter where in the vehicle they ride.

Minnesota

Updated in 2009, Minnesota law requires that children age 7 and under be restrained in an appropriate, federally approved car seat or booster seat, unless the child is 4'9" or taller. Car seats must be installed and used according to manufacturer's instructions. Infants under one year of age and weighing less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat. The state of Minnesota suggests that compliance with car seat safety law is a minimum safety standard, and that parents should use best practices and keep kids in the back seat until age 13. Police can pull drivers over for suspected non-use of child restraints.

Mississippi

Mississippi law requires that all children under 4 years of age ride in a car seat. Children ages 4 to 7 must use a child restraint system that meets their age and weight requirements, regardless of where in the vehicle they sit. All drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear a seat belt in Mississippi. The fine for violations is $25.

Missouri

Missouri laws require children under age four and under 40 pounds to ride in a federally approved child car seat that is appropriate for the child's age and size. Children ages 4 through 7 who weigh more than 40 pounds but less than 80 pounds or are not at least 4'9" tall must ride in an appropriate child car seat or booster seat. Children ages 8 to 18 must wear a seat belt. Missouri law also prohibits children under age 18 from riding in an unenclosed truck bed.

Nebraska

Nebraska law requires all children up to age 6 to ride in a federally approved car seat or booster seat that is appropriate for the child's age, height and weight. Children aged 6 to 18 must be in a seat belt if they are not in a booster seat or other appropriate car seat. Nebraska law prohibits children under age 18 from riding in cargo areas in any vehicle. Drivers and front seat passengers must wear a seat belt or be in a child safety seat.

Nevada

Nevada law states that children under age 6 and 60 pounds ride in a federally approved car seat or booster seat that is appropriate for the child's age and weight. The car seat or booster must be installed and used according to manufacturer's instructions. All other passengers and drivers must wear a seat belt.

New Mexico

New Mexico law requires that all children under age 18 be properly restrained in a car seat, booster seat or seat belt. The law further specifies that properly restrained means: 1) children under age 1 must ride rear-facing in a federally approved car seat in the back seat if the vehicle has one, and not in front of an airbag; 2) children up to their seventh birthday, regardless of weight, and all children weighing less than 60 pounds, regardless of age, to ride in a federally approved child safety seat; and 3) children ages 7 to 12 must be properly secured in a seat belt or federally approved booster seat that fits their height and weight. A seatbelt is required until age 18.

New Mexico's law is specific about seat belt fit for children. Properly restrained means that the lap belt sits low across the hips and not on the abdomen, and that the shoulder portion of the seat belt crosses the chest, not the head or neck. When wearing a seat belt, New Mexico state law says properly secured children are able to sit all the way back against the vehicle seat with their knees bent over the seat edge, and can stay in the proper position for the entire trip.

New York

Updated in 2009, New York law states that children must ride in an appropriate car seat or booster seat until they reach their 8th birthday. Children under age four should be properly secured in a child restraint that is secured to the vehicle with a seat belt or LATCh system. Children under age 16 are required to wear a seat belt. The state further recommends, but does not require, that children remain in a booster seat until they reach 4'9" or 100 lbs and can sit in the adult seat belt properly. You can be pulled over and get a ticket for seatbelt or car seat violations.

North Carolina

North Carolina law requires all children who are under age 8 and under 80 pounds to ride in a properly used car seat or booster seat. Children may be moved to a seat belt when they reach age 8 or 80 pounds, whichever comes first. If a lap/shoulder belt is not available for a child who weighs more than 40 pounds, a properly fitted lap belt may be used, since booster seats should not be used with lap-only seat belts. Car seats must be installed in the rear seat if the child is less than 5 years old and weighs less than 40 pounds. Children through age 16 who are not required to be in car seats by weight must wear a seat belt. The penalty for violation is a fine plus fees of about $263 and two points against your driver's license.

Ohio

Ohio law was updated in 2009. It requires children under four years old and under 40 pounds to ride in an appropriate car seat or booster for the child's age and weight. The car seat must be used according to manufacturer's instructions. Children ages four through seven who are less than 4'9" tall must ride in a federally approved booster seat. Children through age 15 must wear a seat belt or be secured in an appropriate child restraint system. The fine is up to $75 per violation.

Oregon

Oregon law, which was updated in 2007, requires all children to ride in a federally approved car seat until they weigh at least 40 pounds. Infants must ride in rear-facing car seats until they reach both one year of age AND 20 pounds. Children must use a booster seat until they are 4'9" tall, unless they are at least 8 years old. Oregon strongly recommends that children under age 12 ride in the back seat. All passengers and drivers are required to wear a seat belt.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law requires that children under age 4 ride in a federally approved car seat that is appropriate for the child's age, height and weight. The child restraint must be properly used and secured to the vehicle using a seatbelt or the LATCH system. Children ages 4 to 8 must use a booster seat if they are no longer in a car seat. Pennsylvania law further requires children ages 8 to 18 to use a seatbelt whenever they are in a vehicle, regardless of seating position. The fine for non-compliance is $75.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island law states that children under age 8 who weigh less than 80 pounds and are less than 57 inches tall must be properly restrained in the rear vehicle seat in an approved car seat or booster seat. All passengers over the age of 8 must be properly restrained in a seatbelt. Children over age 8 who do not yet fit the seatbelt properly may continue to use a booster seat. The fine for a child under age 8 in the front seat or child over age 8 not wearing a seatbelt is $85. A citation for not transporting a child under age 8 in a car seat or booster seat requires a court appearance.

South Dakota

South Dakota law requires all children under age 5 and weighing less than 40 pounds to use an appropriate federally approved car seat or booster in all seating positions. All children age 17 and under are required to wear a seat belt if they are not already in a car seat or booster. Though South Dakota is one of only a few U.S. states without a booster seat law, booster seats are strongly recommended until a child weighs at least 80 pounds and is 4'9" tall.

Tennessee

Updated in 2004, Tennessee law requires that infants under one year of age and weighing less than 20 pounds ride in a rear-facing car seat. If the car seat has a rear-facing weight limit over 20 pounds, you may keep the infant rear-facing beyond one year and 20 pounds, and the state recommends you do so to the limit of the car seat. Children under age 4 must be properly restrained in a approved car seat used according to manufacturer's instructions. Children ages 4 through 8 who measure less than 4'9" in height must use a booster seat. Children under age 16 who are not in a car seat or booster use a vehicle seat belt. The rear seat is recommended for children 12 and under.

Texas

Texas law was updated in 2009. It requires children under age 8 to ride in an appropriate car seat or booster seat, unless they are 4'9" tall. You must select the appropriate restraint for your child's height and weight, according to manufacturer recommendations. Additionally, Texas law states that during the operation of the vehicle, the child must be properly secured in the car seat or booster seat according to the instructions of the manufacturer of the safety seat system. Children under age 17 must be buckled into the vehicle with a seat belt.

Washington

Updated in 2007, Washington law requires that children less than eight years old be restrained in appropriate child restraint systems (car seats or booster seats) unless the child is 4'9" tall. Babies under one year old and weighing less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat. Children who are 8 or older, or who are 4'9" or taller, must use a seatbelt or appropriate child safety restraint. Children under 13 years of age must be transported in rear seats where it is practical to do so.

This law is also known as the Anton Skeen Law, named for a child who died in a rollover crash because, although he was properly restrained by state law at the time, the vehicle seatbelt could not protect him during the crash.

West Virginia

West Virginia law requires that all children under age 8 ride in an appropriate, federally approved car seat or booster seat that is installed and used according to manufacturer's instructions. If the child is under 8 years old but is taller than 4'9", the child may ride in a seat belt according to West Virginia law. Child passenger safety is a primary law in West Virginia. This means a police officer may pull you over if he or she does not believe your child is properly restrained.