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Car Seat Laws California 101: A Resource Every Parent Needs to Read

If you’re a parent, the single most important thing you can do is buckle up. Parents need to buckle themselves and their children up. A proper safety seat is required for children under 8 years old under car seat law in California.

The requirements differ as a child ages, and this means that you’ll need a rear-facing car seat, child safety seat and booster seat before your child can graduate to a standard seat belt.

But before we dive into the legal aspect of car seat laws, let’s discuss the importance of car seats and child restraint.

Why Child Passenger Safety is a Must

The CDC provides statistics in child passenger safety that should alarm any parent. Children, in this case 12 or under, are included in the statistics. The CDC found that in 2015:

  • 663 children died in motor vehicle crashes
  • 121,350 children were injured in car accidents in 2015
  • 618,000 children aged 0 – 12 rode without car seats or seat belts
  • 35% of deaths were a result of no seat belts or car seats used

When you use a car sear or booster seat, you’re reducing the risk of death in infants, or children under the age of 1, by 71%. Toddlers, considered age 1 – 4, will have their risk of death reduced by 54% when using a car seat.

This is a staggering risk reduction that any parent can appreciate.

Booster seats, used for children between 4 and 8 years old, reduce the risk of serious injury in a car accident by 45%. And for you, the parent, using a proper seat belt reduces the risk of serious injury and death by 50%.

This is a matter of safety and prevention.

Car seat law in California, and the rest of the country, is in place to reduce the risk of injury and death of infants and toddlers. As a parent, it’s up to you to ensure that you’re doing everything in your power to follow the law.

It’s a matter of keeping your child safe.

Even a short trip down the road requires your child to be in a child seat. Statistically, most collisions occur when you’re a mile or less away from home. You can’t put your child’s safety at risk even for a short trip.

Dissecting California’s Car Seat Laws

Seat belt laws vary, depending on age, weight and height. There is a lot to know, so make sure you keep up to date on the most recent laws to ensure your child is as safe as possible when driving.

Children Under the Age of 2

Children who are under the age of 2 are required, by law, to be in a rear-facing car seat. You’ll need to open up the car seat’s owner manual to check for a few important things:

  • Height limit
  • Weight limit

Different car seats will have different limits. You’ll need to replace your car seat if your child outgrows the model you own.

But there are limits, set by the law, which still hold true for children under 2. Your child must remain in a rear-facing car seat unless they’re:

  • 40 pounds or heavier
  • 40 inches tall or taller

This doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t need to remain in a car seat. The law, which went into effect on January 1, 2017, simply adds the rear-facing model into the law. If your child exceeds the limits above, then he or she will fall under the same rules as the children under the age of 8 category.

Children Under the Age of 8

Children under the age of 8 still need to remain in a car seat or booster seat. You will need to use a forward-facing car seat at this point. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child remain in a rear-facing car seat up until the limits set by the manufacturer.


Rear-facing child car seats are 5 times safer than front facing models. But when the limits are exceeded, they pose a safety risk to your child.

Children 8 Years Old or 4’9″ Tall

If your child is 8 years old or 4’9″ tall or taller, they can now graduate to a normal seat belt if:

  • The belt fits properly
  • The lap belt goes low on the hips
  • The shoulder belt crosses the middle of the chest

What if your child has different proportions and they don’t meet the criteria above? In this case, you’ll need to make your child remain in a booster or car seat.

Safety belts have been designed to fit the average passenger. And by the average passenger, manufacturers have dictated that a safety belt must fit a:

  • Male who is 165 pounds

So, if your child, which doesn’t meet this criterion, doesn’t seem to fit properly in the seat belt, err on the side of caution.

Booster seats are often recommended when a child has outgrown a forward-facing harness, which has a 40 – 65-pound (on average) limit.

Fines and Penalties for Breaking Car Seat Law in California

Safety law is important. The State of California has imposed heavy fines and penalties for anyone who breaks car seat laws. If you fail to adhere to the law, you face the following:

  • A point added to your license
  • $500+ fine

The fines and penalties are imposed for each child under 16. If there are 2 children in the car, the fines can be $1,000+ plus two points on your license.

Everyone in your vehicle needs to be buckled up when the vehicle is in motion.

Kaitlyn’s Law

Car seat laws aren’t the only laws that you, as a parent, need to follow. A key law in the State of California that many parents don’t know is Kaitlyn’s Law. This law makes it illegal, in the State of California, to leave a child 6 or younger in a car alone unless someone 12 or older is there to supervise them.

Supervision is required if:

  • The keys are in the ignition
  • The car is running
  • There is a risk to the child

California’s new car seat laws must be adhered to at all times. There’s no excuse for breaking the law – even if you didn’t realize that the rear-facing provision has been added into law.

Motor Vehicle Accidents the Main Cause of Traumatic Brain Injuries

There are some alarming statistics in the U.S. in relation to brain injuries. Every 12 seconds someone somewhere in the country has been unfortunate enough to suffer a brain injury. Minor brain injuries could result from a blow to the head and may not necessarily be permanent, while traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are far more serious and debilitating. Fifty percent of these injuries occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents. Of those that are hospitalized, at least half have been involved in a car accident. The other causes are from actions that have taken place while playing contact sports like football or baseball and in unexpected slips and falls when a victim hits his or head on a hard object.

If you are suffering from TBI you are most likely facing high medical bills and your condition will probably not allow you to return to work until you have fully recovered. Even after a long period of rest you may still be affected by TBI as the damage done affects moods, cognitive ability, motor skills and behavior. You may not be able to concentrate sufficiently to drive your car or ever return to work because you need round the clock care, even to perform the simplest of tasks.

Rehabilitation for a TBI

The sort of treatment given for a TBI will depend on its severity but it normally takes place in a hospital in its outpatient department, or at a specialized rehabilitation that treats TBI victims. The sorts of therapies include:

  • Speech and language therapy when a victim has damaged the part in the brain responsible for speech and language and needs help restoring their ability to write and speak properly again.
  • Cognitive therapy is used to improve the brain’s functioning and independence after a TBI.
  • Vocational and occupational therapy offer assistance so that TBI victims can relearn their occupations enabling them to return to work.
You May be Entitled to File a Personal Injury Claim

Rehabilitation is one method used to help victims of TBI but all this costs money. If you are a victim of a car accident and the accident was not your fault and you have suffered a TBI you will have already been presented with medical bills and will have been unable to return to work as a result of your injury. You may even have been depending on family to care for you.

If you are able to prove that the car accident was not your fault, you may be entitled to file a personal injury compensation claim to recover damages for the financial hardship you have suffered. In most states you are legally entitled to file such a claim as long as you can prove that you had no part to play in the accident and the TBI you have received.

Process for Filing a Personal Injury Claim for TBI

You will need to gather any evidence such as eye witness reports and police reports of the car accident. You will also need to provide a medical report which covers the amount of treatment you have received and how long you will need to be treated. The next step is to find a personal injury attorney to file the claim on your behalf. An experienced attorney will be able to confirm your eligibility to file a claim and will not take up your case if there is no chance of you receiving a settlement.

One of the most difficult parts of filing a personal injury claim is the attitude of the insurer of the person found to be responsible for your injuries. Insurers never want to hand over money, even if you are entitled to it. It needs a persistent personal injury attorney to undertake negotiations so that you get the right amount to cover your financial hardship now and if necessary into the future until full recovery has been completed.

The Way a Personal Injury attorney Works

Most attorneys work on a contingency fee basis and offer free consultations. If this is the case, you don’t pay anything until you have received your payment. This means all accident victims have the chance to file a claim. Each will include money to cover all medical expenses and loss of income as well as an amount for pain and suffering.  In cases where the defendant has been reckless or negligent, punitive damages can also be included in the claim.