Car seat laws vary by state, and children vary by height, weight and physical maturity. However, the laws in your state regarding car seats are geared toward the average child. If your child is smaller than most children his age, you may want to consider more complete guidelines in order to protect him. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report that as many as 70 per cent of car seats may not be installed properly.
Infant seats and rear-facing convertible seats are designed to protect infants under 1 year old who weigh 9.07kg. or less. States that have specific seat requirements for infant seats use the one-year/9.07kg. rule before babies can be moved into front-facing car seats.
Each car seat has a maximum length and weight capacity. Toddlers may remain in a rear-facing infant seat until the child has reached the maximum size allowed by the manufacturer.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers may ride in front-facing convertible seats and car seats with harnesses. Children should continue to use front-facing car seats until they no longer fit in them, but state laws vary on this requirement. The law typically covers children four years of age and under who weigh 18.1kg. or less.
Alabama, Arizona, Massachusetts, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas require children between the ages of 1 and 5 years old to be in a front-facing car seat. Texas also requires that the child must be at least 36 inches tall before graduating to a booster seat.
Children who no longer fit in a front-facing car seat are required to ride in a booster seat in some states. These laws vary the most. General safety guidelines are that any child who has outgrown a car seat, but is not yet 4-feet, 9-inches tall, should ride in a booster seat, because the adult seat belts do not fit correctly. The age that most children reach this height is 8 to 12 years old.
Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Oklahoma require children to ride in a car seat or booster seat until they are at least 6 years old. Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and Rhode Island require a booster seat for children until they reach 7. Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming require children 8 and under to ride in a booster seat.
Some states have specific height requirements that govern when a child is no longer required to ride in a booster seat. Except for Texas, the restrictions specify heights from 54 to 57 inches. Texas booster seat restrictions are lifted when the child reaches 36 inches.