Iowa Seat Belt Laws for Children

Iowa’s seat belt laws took effect in 1986 and were amended several times, including a major overhaul in 2010. The laws are considered “primary enforcement,” which means that a police officer can pull you over specifically for violating a seat belt law. Points are assessed on your driving record for seat belt violations. Although the driver and front seat passengers, regardless of age, must be restrained at all times, additional laws apply to minors under the age of 18.

Infants Through Age 6

Infants under 1 year of age that weigh less than 20 pounds must be restrained in a rear-facing car seat. The seat must meet federal safety standards and be installed properly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If the car has air bags, the child seat must be installed in the rear seat of the vehicle. Children age 6 or under who weigh at least 20 pounds must be restrained in a child safety seat or booster seat rather than a seat belt. The seat must be designed for your child’s weight and size.

Ages 6 Through 11

Children who are least age 6 may use a seat belt instead of a child restraint system, provided they are big enough for the seat belt to fit properly. The seat belt fits properly if the child can sit with her back and bottom against the seat back, her knees bent over the seat’s edge, and the seat belt sits across her hips and chest rather than her stomach or neck. If the seat belt does not fit properly, the child must use a child restraint system. National safety standards recommend that all children under age of 13 sit in the rear seat.

Under Age 18

Kids ages 12 through 17 must use a seat belt at all times, even when sitting in the rear seat. In addition, minors driving with a graduated driver's license are not allowed to carry more passengers than the number of seat belts in the vehicle, regardless of the ages of those passengers. The driver is responsible for the seat belt violations of passengers ages 13 and below, while passengers ages 14 and above are responsible for their own violations. If a passenger age 14 or above has a disability that prevents him from buckling his own seat belt, then the driver is charged for any violation.


Vehicles manufactured before 1966, including school buses, motorcycles and authorized emergency vehicles are exempt from seat belt requirements. In addition, children with a doctor’s note explaining that seat belts are inadvisable due to a medical condition are exempt. If the vehicle is driven by someone with a full, rather than graduated, driver's license, children in the back seat are exempt if all the seat belts are already in use. Children riding in a motor home are exempt except when sitting in the front passenger seat.