Tennessee car seat laws require all young passengers to use a properly fitted child restraint system whenever they travel by motor vehicle. In most cases, restraint systems include a child car seat or booster seat. For instance, babies and infants must use a rear-facing seat, while older, heavier or taller children may use a forward-facing seat or booster. Once child passengers outgrow their safety seats, they may use an adult seat belt if they can do so without slouching.

As part of these car and booster seat laws of TN, most children need to use a safety restraint until they turn eight years of age. However, shorter passengers may need to use a booster seat for longer, even if they are older than eight years of age. For the safety of all young passengers, these laws first went into effect on July 1, 2004. These regulations are designed to protect children in the event of an auto accident.

To learn more about these car seat safety requirements, review the information below.

What are the car seat laws in Tennessee?

As part of the Tennessee car seat rules, all child passengers who are younger than 16 years of age must use an adult safety belt, booster or an appropriately fitted car seat whenever they travel by motor vehicle. While drivers are typically responsible for ensuring that their child passengers are restrained in compliance with the law, parents or legal guardians are responsible for securing their children if they are present. However, it is the driver who may receive the citation on his or her driving record.

Under these car and booster seat guidelines, child passengers must:

  • Use a rear-facing car seat if they are younger than one year of age or weigh less than 20 pounds. Various types of rear-facing restraints include infant, baby and convertible seats.
  • Use a forward-facing seat if they are between one and three years of age and weigh more than 20 pounds. However, many rear-facing seat models are available with higher weight ratings, allowing children who weigh between 30 and 35 pounds to ride in a rear-facing seat for a longer period.
  • Use a child booster seat if they are shorter than four feet nine inches tall and between four and eight years of age. If passengers are older than eight years of age but measure less than four feet nine inches tall, then they must continue to use a belt-positioning booster seat system.
  • Use an adult seat belt system if they are between nine and 12 years of age or taller than four feet nine inches.
  • Use an adult safety belt if they are between 13 and 15 years of age. If possible, child passengers should remain in the back seat of a motor vehicle until they turn 17 years of age.

Penalties for Violating Car Seat Regulations in Tennessee

If motorists violate these car seat requirements in TN, then a police officer may pull them over and fine them for failing to comply with the law. In most cases, the traffic ticket fee is $50.

Types of Car Seats

Car and booster seat age, height and weight requirements vary by product type and manufacturer. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), babies are safest in a rear-facing seat between birth and 12 months of age, while children may use a forward-facing restraint once they outgrow their rear-facing model.

Depending on the size of the child, booster seats are ideal for children who are between four and eight years of age.

As part of the car seat regulations in TN, child passengers generally need to sit in the rear of a motor vehicle and use a:

  • Rear-facing seat if they weigh less than 20 pounds. Rear-facing models often include baby or infant restraints, convertible seats and all-in-one models. While convertible seats may face the front or back of an automobile, all-in-one models can serve as a rear- or front-facing restraint and a booster once children grow taller.
  • Forward facing car seat if they weigh more than 20 pounds. Forward-facing seats are available as convertible, combination and all-in-one models.
  • Booster seat if they are between the ages of four and eight and stand less than four feet nine inches tall. Boosters are available as all-in-one car seats and high-back or backless models. A high-back child booster seat is ideal for vehicles without headrests, while backless boosters are best for cars or trucks with headrests.

Parents and licensed drivers interested in the safest or best car seats for their children should select the product that fits best with the child for which it is intended. According to the NHTSA, the safest car seats for infants weighing between four and 35 pounds include the Britax B-Safe 35 Elite rear-facing seat and the Cybex Aton Q. Moreover, the best car seats for older or heavier children include the Baby Trend PROtect Yumi Folding Booster and the Learning Curve B540 booster for passengers weighing between 30 and 100 pounds.

As for front-facing seats, top-rated models include the Britax Advocate ClickTight or the Graco Milestone for children weighing between 20 and 65 pounds.

Car Seat Installation Information

Child car seat safety starts at installation, as an improperly installed restraint will not provide children with the level of protection they need when traveling by motor vehicle. For this reason, motorists who wish to install a car seat must refer to their vehicle’s ownership manual as well as the product instructions that came with their car or booster seat model.

To simplify the car seat installation process, motorists must also keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep rear-facing models away from passenger seats with active airbags
  • Use high-back boosters when a vehicle is not equipped with headrests
  • Install rear-facing seats at a recline of no more than 45 degrees
  • When using a booster seat, ensure that the lap belt rests across the child’s thighs (and not his or her stomach), with the shoulder belt resting against his or her chest
  • If forward-facing seats include a tether strap, secure the strap to the vehicle’s tether anchor
  • To verify car seat safety, make sure that the restraint system cannot move from front-to-back or side-to-side by more than one inch

However, for installation assistance, Tennessee residents may schedule an appointment with a local Child Passenger Safety Technician. To do so, they may contact the Governor’s Highway Safety Office by telephone.

Last updated on Wednesday, September 23 2020.