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Car Seat Requirements for Children


Each year many children are severely injured or killed either by not using a safety seat or by not being properly fastened into them. Even if you are only traveling a short distance, it is imperative that you securely fasten your child into a safety seat for every trip.  Not only is this a good idea, it is the law in California. California's Child Passenger Safety Law became effective January 1, 2012 and outlines important aspects of these safety laws.

California Law requires children to ride in the back seat in a properly secured child passenger safety restraint until they are at least 8 years old. However, children under the age of 8 but who are at least 4' 9" or taller are not required to be in a car seat or booster and may be secured by a safety belt in the back seat.   For children who are 8 years and over, they shall be properly secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system or safety belt in the back seat. In addition to providing general information about car seat safety laws, the CHP also provides an informational placard with specific information in English  and Spanish that can be printed off and kept in the car for easy reference. Passengers who are 16 years of age and over are subject to California's Mandatory Seat Belt law.

As with most laws, there may be exceptions. The California Vehicle Code 27363 lists any exceptions to the law.  Your child may ride in the front seat if:  

  • Your vehicle has no rear seats.
  • The rear seats are side-facing jump seats. Child safety restraints must never be placed on side-facing vehicle seats.
  • The child restraint system cannot be properly installed in the rear seat.
    For example, your vehicle has lap belts only in the back seat, but there are lap and shoulder belts in the front seat.
  • Children under age 12 occupy all rear seats.
  • Medical reason (written by the pediatrician) requires that child not be restrained in the back seat. All children are safer in the back seat, ask another adult to ride with the child in the back.

The California Department of Public Health has good information available on how to select and properly use a car seat.  Citizens are also able to contact their local CHP Area Office and set up an appointment for a lesson on the proper way to install a safety seat.  The public can also log on to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) website to find a fitting station.

You may report unrestrained children in a motor vehicle to the California Highway Patrol by calling 1-800-TELLCHP.  In California, for each child under 16 who is not properly secured, parents (if in the car) or drivers can be fined and receive a point on their driving records. 

Also, if you are traveling for vacation, car rental agencies are required to have a copy of the law posted onsite and have suitable child restraint systems available for rental.

By Robyn M. Moltzen, Public Services Librarian
Updated May 2013