Child Car Seat Laws and Car Accidents: Legal Requirements and Consequences A Vehicle Accident Lawyer Would Like You To Know
Car seats, boosters, and seat belts save lives, but they must be used correctly at all stages of your child’s development. Here is what you should know about car seat guidelines, typical state laws, and answers to common questions about keeping your kids safe.
Car seat guidelines are based both on your child’s age and their size. It’s important to pay attention to both metrics, as children grow at different rates. Here are the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
- Infants and Toddlers: Children under 2 years old should remain rear-facing as long as possible. Most convertible seats have limits that allow children to remain rear-facing up to 40 or 50 pounds.
- Toddlers and Preschoolers: Once children outgrow the rear-facing limit for their convertible seat, they can switch to forward-facing in a five-point harness seat. They should remain in this seat until they reach the maximum height and weight limits.
- Grade-Schoolers: After outgrowing their forward-facing seat, kids should transition to a belt-positioning booster seat. They should use the booster until they are tall enough for the vehicle seat belt to fit properly, usually around 4’9″.
- Older Children: Once seat belts fit them correctly without a booster (typically by age 8-12), children can use the vehicle seat belt system alone.
Following these guidelines ensures your child is properly protected during each stage of development. And as any good vehicle accident lawyer, such as the Husain Law + Associates — Accident Attorneys, P.C will tell you, double-checking your car seat manual for height, weight, and age limits specific to that model is always a good idea.
Though the AAP provides best practice guidelines, actual car seat laws vary somewhat by state.
Common legal requirements include:
- Rear-facing seats for infants and toddlers under age 2. Most states require children to remain rear-facing until at least age 1, while others specify higher weight limits like 20-40 pounds.
- Forward-facing seats with harnesses for toddlers and preschoolers above rear-facing limits who are still under 4’9″. Almost all states require forward-facing seats until at least age 4.
- Boosters for school-age children who have outgrown their forward-facing seats. States vary on the minimum age for transitioning to boosters, ranging from age 4 to 7.
- Seat belts for older children above booster seat requirements. This is often age 8 and above.
- Seating locations, such as riding in the back seat until age 12-13.
States also differ when it comes to enforcement for violations. Penalties may include fines up to several hundred dollars. Some states have primary enforcement, where drivers can be pulled over solely for car seat misuse. Others have secondary enforcement, meaning police can only issue tickets if the driver was stopped for another reason.
Since requirements can change from year to year, consulting a vehicle accident lawyer is usually the easiest and surest way to stay on the right side of the law.
Unfortunately, many parents unintentionally use car seats incorrectly. Common mistakes include:
- Turning forward-facing too early
- Using seat belts instead of boosters prematurely
- Loose harness straps
- Improper installation
In a crash, these errors can be disastrous. When car seats are not selected and used properly for a child’s age and size, they may fail to protect the child. Accident forces can cause them to be ejected from improperly secured seats.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that car accidents are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13. However, they estimate that proper restraint use reduces the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers.
There are heartbreaking cases where misuse resulted in a child’s death – deaths that could have potentially been prevented by following car seat guidelines. A vehicle accident lawyer is likely to see these tragedies often representing families in wrongful death claims after accidents.
Even if a child survives, car seat misuse can lead to severe injuries, including:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord damage
- Broken bones
- Internal organ damage
- Cuts and abrasions
These injuries may require extensive ongoing treatment. Some disabling injuries can permanently alter a child’s quality of life.
If negligence or mistakes by another driver contributed to an accident where a child was injured, a vehicle accident lawyer can help the family pursue compensation. However, monetary damages cannot undo the suffering caused by losing a child or living with disabilities.
Several parties may share liability when a child is hurt in a car accident while improperly restrained:
If another motorist caused the crash through negligent driving, they can be held liable for injuries to your child. Reckless, impaired, or distracted driving are common causes of liability.
However, the other driver’s insurance company will likely argue that your own negligence in car seat use contributed to the injuries. This is why it’s critical to follow all guidelines and laws.
Daycares and schools have a duty to properly secure children during transportation. If staff incorrectly use car seats when transporting kids, they may share liability for injuries.
The same is true for school bus injuries. School districts can be sued if children are not properly restrained on buses.
In rare cases, defective car seat designs or malfunctions may play a role in child injuries. If so, the seat companies and retailers could share liability.
However, misuse and installation errors are far more common factors. Experts state that when used correctly, car seats perform very well in crashes.
Though tragic, parents can be named liable along with other parties if their own negligence contributed to a child’s injuries. For example, if they turned the child forward-facing before meeting size requirements.
Not thoroughly reading the car seat manual or following state laws could be considered negligent supervision by the courts. Grandparents, babysitters, or others transporting the child may also be liable.
A vehicle accident lawyer can help determine all potentially responsible parties after a crash. They will investigate the accident circumstances, restraint use, and applicable laws.
The expenses caused by a serious childhood injury can be immense, especially when ongoing care is needed.
A vehicle accident lawyer can pursue compensation to cover:
- Extensive medical treatment, surgeries, rehabilitation, physical therapy costs
- Prescription medications
- Medical equipment like wheelchairs
- In-home caregiving services
- Special education and tutoring
- Vehicle modifications to accommodate disabilities
- Lost income during treatment and caregiving
- Pain and suffering damages
If a child dies from injuries sustained, state laws permit families to pursue wrongful death claims against liable parties. This allows recovery of funeral costs and loss of companionship damages.
Though money cannot undo a tragedy, it can relieve the financial burdens it causes. An experienced vehicle accident lawyer understands how to calculate and negotiate a fair legal settlement.
Understanding when to transition your child to the next stage is key for safety. Adhering the the recommended guidelines will also make it easier for a vehicle accident lawyer to argue your case in court in case your child gets injured after an accident.
Here are answers to common questions that you should know.
- My infant seems cramped rear-facing. When can I turn their convertible seat around?
It’s recommended to keep infants rear-facing as long as possible, up to the seat’s size limits. Though their legs may bend, this is safe. Turning too early leaves the head and spine vulnerable. Stick with rear-facing until at least age 2, or when they reach the convertible seat’s maximum size limits.
- My toddler hates their five-point harness and is trying to wiggle out of it. Should I switch to a booster?
The harness keeps your child positioned correctly in an accident. Remove it too soon and they may be ejected or sustain head and neck injuries. Keep them in the five-point harness until they exceed the seat’s forward-facing weight and height limits. Only then can they safely transition to a booster.
- My 6-year-old is tall for his age. Can he use just a seat belt or does he still need a booster?
Don’t be tempted to transition before your child is ready. They need a booster until the seat belt naturally lays across the upper thighs and the shoulder strap fits across the chest. Using a seat belt alone too early can cause abdominal and spinal cord injuries. Check your state laws, as some require boosters as old as age 8.
- My child has disabilities. How do I find the right car seat to accommodate their needs?
Work closely with your doctor to find a seat with the right support and positioning for your child’s condition. There are adaptive car seats to accommodate issues like low muscle tone, movement disorders, breathing problems, spinal abnormalities, and more. Getting the proper seat with the required adapters is key to protecting their safety.
Listening to advice from pediatricians and doing your own thorough research is crucial. Relying on assumptions or anecdotal advice from others can lead to tragedy. When in doubt, consult an expert to ensure you have the optimal car seat for your child’s protection.
No parent ever imagines their child suffering a life-altering injury in a car accident. However, crashes are an unfortunate risk every time we get in a vehicle. Taking steps like proper car seat use helps minimize that risk and prevent injuries.