When a child is in your care, your number one priority is to protect their well-being. Remaining informed about child passenger safety laws is an excellent way for parents and caretakers to keep children safe while traveling. Driving laws can vary across the United States, so consider looking into what specific state laws apply in the areas you travel most frequently.
Several states treat child restraint violations as a primary offense. For example, someone violating Arkansas car seat laws can expect to be pulled over, written a citation, and issued a hefty fine. Overall, there is one significant universal rule to remember. All children must remain in an age-appropriate and size-appropriate car seat or booster seat. This law applies until the child can fit properly in an adult safety belt.
Infant Safety Standards
Laws and regulations vary depending on the state and the age of the passenger. Infants must remain in a rear-facing car seat from birth until ages 2 to 4. When using an infant seat, securely buckle babies and toddlers into the back seat of your vehicle. If you are unsure that you are using the most appropriate child restraint system, check the car seat label or manual.
Manufacturer’s instructions indicate height limits and weight requirements which may be necessary to determine the most appropriate child restraint despite your child’s age group.
Toddlers and Young Children
Once a child has outgrown their rear-facing child safety seat, you can transition them into a forward-facing car seat. Similar to its predecessor, a forward-facing car seat should always remain buckled in the back seat. Children typically require this type of car safety seat until at least age 5. However, the best practice is to check the height and weight limits to ensure your child is protected and comfortable.
Older Children and the Booster Stage
The final stage of child passenger safety seats is the booster seat. When children ages 5-12 outgrow their forward-facing seats, it is time to transition into a booster. A booster adjusts a child’s seating position so that an adult seatbelt fits them properly. A proper fit means that the lap belt lies across the child’s upper thighs rather than their stomach and the shoulder belt rests across their chest rather than their neck.
Once the seatbelt meets each of those requirements without a booster, a child is ready to travel without a child restraint device. Remember that no passenger should ever ride without using a seatbelt. This law applies everywhere within the United States.
Public Road Risks
In states like Arkansas, where traveling in violation of child restraint laws is a primary offense, an officer can pull you over if they suspect that a child’s restraints are improper. To illustrate, imagine your child visibly does not fit into their car seat or is too tiny for their adult seatbelt. In that case, you are not only endangering them but also putting yourself at risk for a citation. Keep in mind that child safety laws do not end with car seats. For example, the Arkansas code declares it illegal to smoke in a car with a passenger under 14.
The leading cause of death among children in the United States is motor vehicle crashes. Thankfully, correct car seat usage for children can reduce their risk of injury in crashes by 71-82%. In 2017, the CDC reported that child restraints saved 325 childrens’ lives from age 0-4. Parents and guardians can locate additional information regarding child safety laws and child seat safety via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The best thing you can do to keep a child safe on the roadway is to stay informed and insured.