The use of a child restraint system when riding in a vehicle is essential to keeping your toddler safe in the event of an accident. The Commonwealth of Virginia has specific regulations relating to when a child must be properly restrained in a vehicle. When your toddler has outgrown his forward-facing five-point harness seat, it is time to move him to a booster seat. Booster seats elevate your toddler while in the vehicle to allow the proper positioning of the seat belt.
Age and Weight
The Commonwealth of Virginia does not place an age or weight restriction on when a toddler can move into a booster seat. The state does offer a recommendation on when a toddler should move to a booster seat. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, a toddler should first exceed the height or weight requirements of her forward-facing child restraint before moving to a booster seat. Commonwealth of Virginia law states that a child must reach her 8th birthday before moving out of a booster seat. The law also requires children age 8 through 17 use a seat belt at all times when riding in a vehicle.
Although the Commonwealth of Virginia requires that a child remain in a booster seat or other approved restraint until he reaches his 8th birthday, there are a few exceptions to the law. If your toddler -- once he reaches the age of 4 -- has a medical need preventing the use of a booster or other restraint device, you are exempt from the law. This determination must be made by a healthcare professional, and documentation of the exception must remain in the vehicle in which your toddler is riding at all times. There is a $20 fine for not having the proper exemption paperwork on hand in the vehicle. Your toddler is also not required to ride in a booster seat on public transit, in a taxicab, on a regulation school bus, in a farm vehicle or if he rides in a vehicle manufactured before January 1, 1968.
The Commonwealth of Virginia considers a child restraint violation a primary offense. In other words, if an officer of the law observes your toddler unrestrained inside a moving vehicle at any time, the officer can pull you over for the restraint violation alone. The fine for a first offense is $50, and for a second offense, you will be fined $500. All fines resulting from a child restraint violation are put into a fund to purchase child safety seats for low-income families.
Once your toddler has outgrown her forward-facing child restraint system and you have moved her to a booster seat, you may be tempted to allow her to sit in the front seat of a vehicle. The Commonwealth of Virginia recommends that children under the age of 12 remain in the back seat of a vehicle whenever possible. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reports that seating children in the back seat of a vehicle reduces the risk of death by 24 percent. If possible, you should also have your toddler’s booster seat located in the middle of the vehicle, as long as the middle seat is equipped with a shoulder belt.