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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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.