Child car seat laws may seem complicated, but they exist to keep kids safe. If your tot is too big for a standard, front-facing car seat, it's time to buckle him up in a booster seat. The CDC recommends that a child use a booster seat from age 5 until a seat belt fits him properly. Booster seat laws vary by state, so make sure you're doing the right thing if you go on a cross-country road trip.
When Can a Child Use a Booster Seat?
A child can use a booster seat as soon as she outgrows a front-facing car seat and until an adult seat belt fits properly without using the booster seat. A seat belt fits properly when the lap belt sits across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt sits diagonally across the center of the chest. The CDC recommends that a child reach the minimum height of 57 inches for proper seat belt fit. Always use both the lap and shoulder belts – not just the lap belt – with a booster seat.
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Booster Seat Laws by State
In California and New York, children under age 8 and less than 57 inches tall must use an appropriate, federally approved child restraint system in the car's rear seat. Children ages 8 to 16 who are over 57 inches tall can use a seat belt. The restraint system must meet the size and weight requirement for the child based on the manufacturer's recommendations.
In Nevada, children who are younger than 6 and who weigh less than 60 pounds, must ride in a federally approved safety restraint system that is suitable for their age, height and weight. As best practice, Nevada recommends using a booster seat always placed in the rear seat of the vehicle for children ages 4 to 7 who have outgrown front-facing car seats.
In Florida, children under age 5 must use an appropriate, federally approved child restraint system. Children 3 years and younger must use a separate car seat or the vehicle's built-in child seat, and children 4 through 5 years must use either a separate carrier, an integrated child seat or a booster seat.
Are Backless Booster Seats Legal?
Backless booster seats are legal, but they don't support a child's head or neck. They are designed to boost a child’s height so the seat belt fits properly and is held in place by the child’s weight and the vehicle’s seat belt. A backless booster seat is most suitable for cars with head rests and for older children who are almost ready to use a seat belt properly.
Child car seat laws vary by state. Most state laws don't have specific guidelines for booster seats, so always check the seat's manual for height and weight limits, as well as for proper installation and seat use.
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.