California Car Seat Laws
Each year, thousands of children are injured or killed across the United States because they are not properly restrained while riding in motor vehicles. California has strict car seat laws to protect children in the event of a car accident. It is imperative for all parents and guardians to understand these laws to ensure the safety of their children and avoid legal trouble.
The California Car Seat Law
The guidelines of California’s child restraint system law are detailed in Vehicle Code 27360. Under this statute, which was updated in 2017, all children under the age of 8 must ride in a secure car or booster seat in the back seat of a vehicle. All children under the age of 2 are required to ride in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system. Once children turn 8 years old, they are generally permitted to ride in front or rear seats as long as they are secured with a seat belt.
California Rear-Facing Car Seat Guidelines
Vehicle Code 27360 requires all children under the age of 2 to be secured in a rear-facing seat until they:
- Weigh at least 40 pounds
- Are at least 40 inches tall
Two-year-old children who are under 40 pounds in weight or 40 inches in height must continue to ride in rear-facing seats until they meet the required size guidelines.
Parents or guardians must follow all instructions provided by the child safety seat’s manufacturer when securing children in rear-facing seats.
California Front-Facing Car Seat Guidelines
In order to ride in front-facing seats, children must meet the following guidelines:
- Be at least 2 years old
- Weigh at least 40 pounds
- Be at least 40 inches tall
Parents or guardians are required to follow all instructions provided by the child safety seat’s manufacturer when securing children in front-facing seats.
California Booster Seat Guidelines
Children are allowed to graduate from front-facing seats to booster seats once they outgrow the weight and height limits listed by the front-facing seat’s manufacturer. Most manufacturers recommend that children start using booster seats once they weigh between 40 and 65 pounds.
Parents or guardians must follow all instructions provided by the child safety seat’s manufacturer when securing children in booster seats.
California Guidelines for Children and Seat Belts
Once children exceed the age, weight and height requirements for using car or booster seats, they must be secured with a seat belt. Children typically meet these requirements between the ages of 8 and 12. All children age 16 and over are subject to California Vehicle Code 27315, which requires them to wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle.
Exceptions to the California Car Seat Law
Vehicle air bag systems pose a safety risk to young children. However, California law permits children under the age of 8 to ride in a front-seat restraint system if:
- The vehicle has no rear seats
- The vehicle has side-facing jump seats
- The vehicle has rear-facing back seats
- All the vehicle’s rear seats are occupied by younger children
- The vehicle’s rear seat cannot properly accommodate a car or booster seat
- The child has medical reasons for not riding in the back seat
Children secured in rear-facing child restraint systems cannot sit in the front seat of a vehicle equipped with airbags.
Child Safety Considerations
Child safety experts urge parents and guardians to make sure their children meet all age, weight and height requirements for each type of child restraint system they are secured in. Please note that adult seat belts are designed for 165-pound male adults, so children should not use them until they meet the minimum age and size requirements. Children who are improperly secured with adult seat belts are placed at significant risk of injury or death.
Drivers who need help with child restraint system installation can seek help from a certified safety technician. Drivers might also get assistance by contacting their local police station, fire station or California Highway Patrol outpost.
Penalties for Violating the California Child Restraint System Law
Parents or guardians who fail to properly follow California’s child restraint system law may face the following penalties:
- $100 ticket for first violation
- $250 ticket for each subsequent violation
- 1 point on DMV driving record, which could result in increased insurance premiums
Failure to pay a ticket is a misdemeanor under California law and could result in the following penalties:
- Up to six months in county jail
- $1000 fine
Possible defenses for not following California child restraint system laws include:
- An emergency situation made it impossible to secure the child in a car or booster seat
- The child has a medical condition that makes using a car or booster seat impractical, or other exemptions listed under California law
- The driver was not the child’s parent or legal guardian, and the child’s parent or legal guardian was a passenger in the car
Can a Driver Be Sued Over California Child Restraint System Violations?
Yes. Under California law, a driver is considered negligent for failing to use reasonable care to prevent harm to themselves or others. That means that a driver who does not follow California laws on securing children in motor vehicles could be found liable in court in the event of a car accident.
Drivers who fail to follow the California child restraint system law and are in a car accident could be sued if that accident causes injuries to the child or another party. For example, if a driver was distracted by an unsecured toddler and hit a bicyclist, the bicyclist could file a personal injury lawsuit alleging that the driver’s negligence caused the crash. In another example, a guardian who let an underage child ride in the front seat could be sued by the child’s parent if the child was injured in a car accident.
Drivers who are found liable in a personal injury lawsuit may be ordered to pay damages to the injured party. Possible damages include:
- Current and future medical expenses
- Lost wages and lost future earnings
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of consortium
- Court costs and attorney fees
Can a Driver Face Criminal Charges Over California Child Restraint System Violations?
Yes. Drivers who willfully expose a child to unjustifiable pain, suffering or danger can be charged with child endangerment under California Penal Code 273a. That means that drivers who fail to properly secure a child in a motor vehicle could be criminally charged by prosecutors if:
- The driver willfully violated the child restraint system law
- The violation unjustifiably endangered the child
Drivers can be charged with child endangerment even if the child did not suffer any physical injuries in the incident. For example, if a driver is pulled over for reckless driving and officers discover an unrestrained minor in the vehicle, the driver could face child endangerment charges even though no crash occurred. The same would be true for a drunk driver who is found with an unrestrained child in the vehicle.
Drivers convicted of child endangerment could face the following penalties:
- Up to one year in county jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
Should I Contact A Car Accident Attorney?
If you or loved one have been injured due to a driver’s failure to follow child restraint system laws, contact a California attorney at our firm as soon as possible. A car accident attorney could assess your case and work tirelessly to get you the compensation you deserve.
A California attorney could also help gather evidence supporting your case and safeguard your interests by dealing with insurance companies on your behalf.
There is a small window of opportunity to file personal injury lawsuits in California, so don’t delay. Contact our law firm and let us fight for your rights.