New Car Seat Laws: What It Means for Your Family

Echoing longtime recommendations from CHOC Children’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics, children in California are now required to ride in rear-facing car seats until age 2, under new state legislation.

As of January 1, 2017, the law extends the former requirement that children face backward until age 1. The new law does not apply to children who weigh more than 40 pounds or are 40 inches or taller.

CHOC community educators, however, continue to recommend more stringent guidelines for children and rear-facing seats. They encourage parents to keep in mind the following tips:

  • Facing the rear is the safest way for a baby or toddler to ride.
  • Keep toddlers in a rear-facing convertible car seat at least until age 2 or until they reach the maximum weight and height for their seat.
  • The harness straps should be snug and placed at or below the shoulder level.
  • Children have outgrown their current car seat when there is less than one inch of space between the top of their head and the top of the car seat.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14 in the United States. According to a 2007 study in Injury Prevention, children younger than 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash when they’re riding in rear-facing car seats. They are also a major cause of permanent brain damage, epilepsy and spinal cord injuries. Many of the deaths and injuries can be prevented with the proper use of child restraints and seat belts.

CHOC child passenger safety technicians are available to answer car seat questions regarding current laws, how to select an appropriate seat for your child, and what you need to know to install and use the child restraint correctly.

For more information on child passenger safety, visit CHOC’s community education page.

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Car Seat Safety for Children with Special Needs

The AngelRide carries infants who must lie down.
The AngelRide carries infants who must lie down.
Choosing the right car seat and installing it correctly can be confusing enough, but imagine the challenges that mount for families of children with special needs.

Traditional store-bought car seats may not work for children with certain conditions, and parents often must turn to specialty options that can be expensive with limited options.

“A lot of the families of patients with special needs will begin to see that and feel so overwhelmed,” says Elizabeth Perez, a CHOC Children’s community educator.

Parents and guardians should never attempt makeshift accommodation for children with special needs. Instead, Perez and her colleagues in CHOC’s Community Education department can help families in these unique circumstances navigate the process to select and acquire a car seat that fits their needs.

“Once we get that call, we meet with the family,” Perez says. “They will bring their seats and their vehicle, and we work to see what kind of seat they’ll need.”

Community educators can also help the family, as well as their clinicians and social workers, write letters to their health insurance provider to seek assistance for the family in purchasing the special car seats or accessories, which can be very expensive, Perez says.

Many conditions might make choosing a car seat more complicated, and require parents to find specially made seats, she says.

For example, children with cerebral palsy may have low muscle tone and trunk control and will have limited and less affordable options once they reach the upper weight limits of standard car seats.

Children with respiratory problems other conditions that prevent them from sitting up can face challenges as well, Perez says. In these cases, families might rely on “car beds,” which allow passengers to securely lie down on their backs, stomach or sides.

Children with behavioral challenges, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or cognitive impairment may also need special restraints in the car if they cannot stay secured in a car seat and risk distracting the driver. In these cases, harness system or travel vests might be helpful.

Also, children missing limbs or those wearing spica casts that immobilize the lower body can need special accommodations.

Contact CHOC’s Community Education department at 714-509-8887 for more information about car seat safety for children.

The Right Car Seat for Your Little Passenger

Just in time for Child Passenger Safety Week (Sept. 13-19), check out the following guidelines from OC Keep Kids Safe, an injury prevention program of the CHOC Community EducationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, to make sure you are choosing the right car seat for your child.

Rear Facing Infant and Convertible Seats

  • Never in front of an airbag
  • Rear facing to upper weight or height limit
  • Harness snug at or below shoulders
  • Chest clip at armpit level
  • Attach to car with seat belt or lower anchors
  • Add nothing to or behind harness
  • Rear facing 5 times safer between ages 1 and 2 years

Forward Facing Seats

  • Up to 40-65 or 80 pounds
  • Lower anchors to 40-48 pounds
  • Harness snug at or above shoulders
  • Chest clip at armpit level
  • Attach to car with top tether strap and seat belt or lower anchors
  • Use a 5-point harness to upper weight or height limit of seat

Booster Seats

  • Until 4’ 9” and 8 -12 years
  • Always use lap/shoulder seat belt
  • Never put shoulder belt behind back or under arm
  • Use highback booster for vehicle seat without headrest

Adult-Size Seat Belts

  • Back straight against vehicle seat, and knees bent at seat edge
  • Shoulder belt across chest, not neck or throat
  • Lap belt low and snug across upper thighs, not stomach
  • Children younger than 13 should always ride in the back seat

As a reminder, rear facing is always safer and be sure to always read your car seat and vehicle manuals for specific directions.

For a downloadable pdf, click here.

Visit CHOC’s community education page for more on child passenger safety.

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New Car Seat Law Beginning Jan. 1st

Have you heard? Beginning January 1, 2012, a new law in California will require all children under 8 years old to ride in a car or booster seat in the back seat of a motor vehicle.

Children 8 years or older may use a vehicle seat belt if it fits properly with the lap belt low on the hips, touching the upper thighs, and the shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest. If children are not tall enough for proper belt fit, they must ride in a booster or car seat. The new law imposes fines and penalties for violations.

California joins more than 37 other states with strict booster seat laws. The law mirrors the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, among other agencies.  Car crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 4-12 and one of the leading causes of injury and disability. For your and your family’s safety, please remember to have everyone buckle up!

Learn more about car seat guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

For more information, please contact a certified child passenger safety technician in CHOC’s Community Education Department, by calling 714-509-8887. A free child passenger safety class and a low cost car seat program (in English and Spanish) is available.

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