- Children 8-years-old must sit in the backseat of the vehicle in a child passenger restraint system.
- Children 2-years-old must be in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system.
- Under California law, there is a $100 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine for the second offense.
- Contact the California Highway Patrol for assistance in buying a child car seat or booster seat.
Child Car Seat Laws
All but the youngest of today's parents likely recall tumbling unrestrained around their parents' vehicle as it rumbled down the street, free from seat belts or car seats (or car seat laws). We might have been sitting in the rear seat, but many of our parents didn't think twice about letting us ride in the front seat either.
Since then, seat belt laws and child car seat laws have passed in every state and the benefits of restraining a child in a car seat or booster seat are widely accepted. California's child safety belt and passenger restraint law were updated on Jan. 1, 2017 to protect children in the event of a car accident. Parents should know the key points of this law to ensure they are following legal guidelines for their children's safety — even if they long for the days of hot metal playground slides and riding bikes without helmets.
Updated California Car Seat Law
Beginning in 2017, all children under the age of 8 must sit in a child passenger restraint system in the back seat of a vehicle. All children under the age of 2 must be in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system unless that child is at least 40 inches tall or weighs 40 pounds. Few children reach that size by age 2, so for all practical purposes let's just say that all children under 2 years of age should be in rear-facing seats. It may seem strange to have your child in a rear-facing car seat at first but both you and the child will get used to it quickly.
There are a handful of other exceptions to the new law, however. Most widely applicable is the exception for children under age 8 who have reached 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Those children are not required to use a child restraint system, though it may still be recommended. Other exceptions are noted, and the law also includes greater latitude for the courts: “The court may exempt from the requirements of this article any class of child by age, weight, or size if it is determined that the use of a child passenger restraint system would be impractical by reason of physical unfitness, medical condition, or size.”
Penalties for violating California's child car seat law are not stiff — a $100 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine for the second offense. In each case, if a person “establishes to the satisfaction of the court that he or she is economically disadvantaged,” the court can waive the fine in favor of a community education program on child car seats.
Rental and Ridesharing Car Seat Laws
The law requires car rental companies in California to provide access to a child restraint system if a person renting a car does not have one. This only applies if the child is 8 or younger.
Ridesharing services including Uber and Lyft are also subject to the law, though drivers might not necessarily provide a car seat. Uber Car Seat and Uber Family are available in select cities, allowing a user to order a ride with a child safety seat available for an upcharge. Lyft policy states that riders should provide their own car seats in order for children to ride along.
Properly Install Child Restraint Systems
You should note that California law doesn't just require the use of a restraint system for small children, it specifically states that the child must be properly restrained. This means that the lap belt should be low across the hips, actually touching the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt must cross over the child in the center of his or her chest. In other words, make sure the belt fits properly, not just that it's connected.
Some of these requirements may seem like overkill, but they exist for good reason. Many of the motor vehicle safety features built into cars today are designed for adult bodies and make it dangerous for children to travel in the front seat. For example, even with a sturdy child seat, a five or six-year-old that can use a forward-facing car seat could be seriously hurt by an airbag if placed in the front seat.
Anyone looking for help in securing a child car seat or booster seat can contact the California Highway Patrol. The CHP can direct someone to a child passenger safety technician. Late in 2016, the California Department of Public Health received a grant of nearly $500,000 to train 450 new technicians and update 2,000 existing technicians on best practices for installing and using child safety restraint systems.