Child Car Seat Laws Across the U.S.

Looking up child car seat laws before your road trip? Good for you. Too many people rely on hearsay or what they see the neighbors doing. That's a good way to get a ticket - or, worse, to endanger the safety of your child.

Some child car seat laws may seem overly cautious, or even restrictive. But the fact is, they're based on sound science.

Think about it: our bodies weren't really designed to absorb the force of a metal vehicle colliding with another metal vehicle at even 25 miles per hour, let alone 75. And children's bodies are far more fragile than adults'. That's why we take special precautions.

But don't freak out. Most car seat laws are quite straightforward and easy to follow once you get in the habit. Here's an overview of car seat regulations across the U.S.:

All 50 states have child restraint laws. This doesn't just mean that small children must wear a seat belt; it means they must be in a child car seat. It's never OK to let a small child simply strap in like an adult, sit in a parent's lap, or worst of all, toddle around the vehicle while it is in operation.

Age and size specifics vary by state. Some states simply require all children below a particular age to ride in a restraint device. For example, Florida says "3 years and younger," while Illinois makes 7 years the cutoff point.

Other states qualify the age limit with a weight limit. In Arkansas, all children under 5 years and under 60 pounds must ride in a car seat.

Still other states include a height cutoff. It's typically 57 inches.

Many states have a rear-facing requirement. Ever wondered why babies start off facing backwards, but then get turned around once they grow a bit? It's safer - and it's often the law. Many states require that babies under one year or 20 pounds must face the rear.

Some states require booster seats. Booster seats provide extra height for children between the ages of, say, four and eight. Why is this important? Because shoulder belts are really designed for adults. In the event of a crash, they can actually injure children who are below a certain height.

Some states have back-seat requirements. Perhaps one-third of states require that children below a certain age be seated in a rear seat, if available. Putting them in the back will keep them safer in the event of a frontal collision.

The bottom line? Don't guess at what the law requires. Check out the child car seat laws today.

Traveling to the Golden State? Study up on California car seat laws.

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