California Car Seat Laws: What to Know

Are California car seat laws more restrictive than elsewhere? Not really. But they're a bit more complicated than what you'll find in most states.

We call out this fact for two reasons. First of all, California is our most populous state, so we figure millions of people will be wondering about the car seat laws. Second, California is a common destination for vacations and road trips, which is what this site is all about.

So, allow us to summarize California car seat laws:

  • You'll earn "points" for your offenses. California is one of the states that gives you points on your driver's license for car seat violations. Points are bad. If you earn enough of them, you'll lose your license.

  • Fines for first-time offenses can be as much as $100. That puts California at the upper end of the range of penalties - but still well below Nevada, where a first-time offense can cost you as much as $500.

  • Think "8 and 4'9"." Kids under 8 years old must be in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. But if they're at least 4'9", they can simply wear a safety belt in the back seat.

  • Think "rear seat." Although kids under 8 must sit in the rear seat, the law makes exceptions if there is no rear seat; if the rear seat is side- or rear-facing; if the car seat can't be installed in the rear; if the back seat is already full of kids under 12; or if the child can't ride in the rear for medical reasons.

  • Infants must avoid the airbag. We just said the little ones belong in the back, except if there is no back. But if the little one is under one year or 20 pounds, it is strictly forbidden to put him or her in a front seat with an active passenger airbag. So, either disable that airbag, or have the baby ride in another car with a usable back seat.

In addition, the California Highway Patrol outlines four steps of car safety for babies and children:

  • Step 1: Rear-facing car seat, for babies under 1 year and 20 pounds.

  • Step 2: Forward-facing car seat, for children over 1 year and 20 pounds.

  • Step 3: Booster seat with lap and shoulder belt, for children under 8 years, or under 4'9".

  • Step 4: Seat belt, for children over 8 years or 4'9".

That's about it. Learn more using the links on the road signs below.

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