If you’re a California parent of a child less than 2 years of age,
you need to know about a change to the car seat law that went into effect
at the beginning of the year.
As of Jan. 1, 2017, the California Vehicle Code requires that “children
under 2 years of age must ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child
weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall.”
What the law means for you
Is your child under the age of 2? Check. Is your child under 40 pounds
or 40 inches? Check. Then you must place them in a car seat facing the
rear of the vehicle. It’s no longer an option for parents to take
this as a suggestion and turn the child around when you want.
While you may hate the fact that you can’t see your child’s
face, or cringe at seeing their legs up against the back of the seat,
rear-facing seats are best for small children because they provide extra
cradling that reduces stress on a young neck and spinal cord. You can
upgrade to a front-facing seat after the child weighs at least 40 pounds
or is at least 40 inches tall (for most children, this is well after 2
years old). Whether front-facing or rear-facing, choose a seat that has
been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),
and use it with confidence: all NHTSA-approved child seats comply with
strict federal safety standards and have been rigorously tested for crash
California law continues to require that all children under the age of
8 be secured in a car seat or booster in the back seat. After they’re
8 or older, they can use the car’s seat belt as long they’re
tall enough (at least 4’9”) for it to fit properly; otherwise,
they have to continue to ride in the car seat or booster.
Why it’s a good thing
If you are involved in a crash with a child riding in a rear-facing seat,
instead of their head being forced forward, the child’s back, neck
and head will be supported by the car seat.
Supporting a child’s body in a crash is especially important since
children under the age of 2 have spines that are not yet fully developed
and are more vulnerable to serious injury than an adult.
If you are pulled over, and your child’s car seat is not compliant
with the law, you can be fined more than $500 and get a point on your
driving record. If you need help learning how to install a car seat, call
your local California Highway Patrol office and ask if they can assist
you. Many CHP locations offer programs on car seat safety and installation,
and they’d rather educate parents than write them tickets.
Car seat safety tips
- When placing your child in a car seat, make sure the harness straps are
snug. Using your thumb and pointer finger, you shouldn’t be able
to pinch any extra strap at your child’s collarbone level.
- Take off any bulky clothes such as jackets or blankets, so there is no
padding between the harness straps and the child where movement could
occur in the event of a crash. You can place a blanket over the child
once they are strapped into the harness.
- Make sure the retainer clips are at armpit level to hold the harness straps
properly in place.
- When rear-facing, the harness straps of the car seat should be located
at or below your child’s shoulders.
While the law states that rear-facing is for children up to the age of
2, this is only a
minimum requirement. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride rear-facing
to the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
Usually, this is until about the age of 4.
Of course, you need to make sure
everyone in the car is buckled up, children and adults alike. It’s the single
most important safety step to take before every trip, and it’s the
law. Happy travels!
Karli Tedeschi is the Injury Prevention Program Coordinator, and the Safe
Kids Sonoma County Coordinator, at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
California Vehicle Code Section 27360