Car seat laws in California ensure that children who need extra protection in vehicles are secured in suitable child restraints. Because thousands of children are injured or killed each year due to violations of booster seat laws or improper installation of the child restraints, CA has established strict laws detailed the ages, heights and weights children must be before they are exempt from needing a child restraint.

Qualifications dictated by CA law are determined by the ability for the child to remain safe in a seat without support. Parents and drivers must be familiar with the car seat rules in effect in the state to avoid dangerous accidents and the penalties they may incur for breaking the rules.

While there are various threats to child passengers’ safety, practicing car seat safety is the easiest way to prevent some of the biggest threats. The following sections explain the laws and the penalties related to child restraint use.

What are the car seat laws in California?

The current car seat regulations in CA indicate which child restraint devices children must ride in as well as the age, weight and height restrictions for each child restraint. While booster seat laws pertain mainly to children who are eight years old, laws related to the convertible car seat, for instance, may apply to younger children.

An explanation of all ages, weights and heights that apply to children passengers in CA as of 2017 is provided below:

  • Children younger than two years old. These children must ride in a rear facing car seat, but they may be secured in another type of seat with a five-point harness if they exceed 39 pounds or are taller than 39 inches. The child must meet height and weight limits as specified by the manufacturer of the child restraint device.
  • Children between the ages of two and eight. They may either be restrained in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Children eight years old or older. Any type of child restraint in which the child fits comfortable and safely must be utilized by children in this age group. However, a seat belt is sufficient according to CA law.
  • Children who are four feet nine inches in height. Regardless of their age and car seat weight, these children do not need a child restraint in a vehicle. Instead, only a seat belt is required.

Although the booster seat age varies for each state, CA has not specifically addressed the criteria children have to meet before they may use a booster seat. According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), a child’s car seat may be replaced for a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of the seat. This typically occurs when children weight 40 to 65 pounds.

Despite all the state laws in place that may imply a child is ready to ride without a child restraint, children should remain in a child restraint device as long as possible or until they are 12 or 13 years old.

Penalties for Violating Car Seat Regulations in California

Car seat guidelines violators in CA face fines of $475 or $1,055 depending on the frequency of the offense. Booster seat weight requirements that permit children to sit in vehicles without a child restraint of any kind are explained briefly in community education programs, and the completion of these courses may waive the fines drivers incur.

However, fines may only be waived if drivers prove they are struggling financially and could not accommodate the child restraint laws.

Types of Car Seats

Car seats are available in various forms and can even be rented from some rental or rideshare companies. No matter how far drivers plan to travel with child passengers, they need a durable and dependable basic, infant or convertible car seat that can grow with the children. Therefore, they should review this list detailing the main types of seats that may work for their children:

  • Infant car seat. For newborns and babies, a regular seat may not be sufficient. All these will be a rear facing car seat, but some may differ in terms of their structure. For instance, a car bed gives infants the ability to lie down in a vehicle. This type of baby car seat can be used until the child is two years old, but drivers should always follow medical or professional advice that suggests otherwise.
  • Forward facing car seat. This is a toddler seat meant for children older than two years old who have outgrown their previous seat. This seat can be convertible and adjusted to the specific height of the child.
  • Booster seat. A booster seat is reserved for children older than four and is designed to heighten children so that the seat belt affixed to the vehicle properly fits the child. Unlike the other types of seats, these do not usually provide additional straps or harnesses.

The best car seats for children must accommodate their size, remain sturdy and be affordable. Some of the top-selling and safest car seats in CA include the Britax Advocate ClickTight, the Clek fllo and the Combi Coccoro. These brand-name models have great vehicle road-test reports and customer ratings and competitive prices.

However, drivers and parents are encouraged to evaluate the quality of a child restraint device themselves.

Car Seat Installation Information

Research shows that incorrect car seat installation leads to the death of 43 percent of children involved in car accidents. Even experienced parents can use assistance when installing a child car seat, so learning helpful tips and information that can aid in the installation process can be incredibly beneficial.

The following tips can help any parent or driver install a child restraint effectively:

  • Check the stability of the seat. In compliance with state laws, child restraints should not move an excessive amount and potentially endanger children secured in them. A secure restraint should not move more than one inch in any direction.
  • Position shoulder straps at armpit level. For babies, straps and harnesses should be at or below their shoulders. For children, straps should be at or above their shoulders.
  • Ensure the straps are taught. Loose straps can endanger a child. While children should be comfortable, straps should not have much slack when pinched.
  • Review the instruction manual. Car seats should be attached to seat belts properly using the correct slots. Check the manual for specific installation instructions.
Last updated on Wednesday, September 23 2020.