Virginia Car Seat Laws
Understanding the car seat laws in Virginia is important before you get on the road with your children. Laws and regulations are put in place to keep children safer when riding in the vehicle, particularly during an auto accident. For example, sticking to the recommended booster seat age will ensure that your kids are tall enough to use an adult seat belt without the risk of injury. Knowing when to switch from one type of car seat to another is also critically important, as not all seats are the same.
Booster seat laws and other regulations apply to everyone who transports children in a passenger vehicle, not just parents. Anyone who violates the law is subject to a fine as well as a traffic ticket. In the sections below, parents and caregivers can learn everything they need to know about car seat safety in Virginia, including how to choose the correct type of seat for children at different ages.
What are the car seat laws in Virginia?
Most car seat regulations in Virginia are based on a child’s age rather than his or her weight. There may be a recommend booster seat weight, for example, but the laws do not indicate the exact weight that a child must be at to move from one type of car seat to another.
Because the laws mostly pertain to the correct car seat ages, you should always refer to the manufacturer’s specifications when trying to decide which seat is right for your child based on his or her weight. With that in mind, the most important laws to be aware of are as follows:
- Age-appropriate child restraint devices are required for all children until their eighth birthday
- Car seats must meet Department of Transportation (DOT) safety standards
- Any rear facing car seat must be placed in the back seat unless the car does not have back seats
- In such cases, the car seat may be strapped in the front seat as long as the passenger airbag has been manually deactivated.
- You do not need to commit a different traffic infraction in order to be pulled over or ticketed for a child seat violation
- Once a child reaches eight years of age, he or she must wear a safety belt but may continue using a booster seat if required
- Children may be exempt from the laws for car seats if they have a medical condition that makes it impossible to ride with a traditional safety seat as long as you carry a written statement proving the exemption
- Children younger than 16 years of age cannot ride unrestrained in a cargo area of a vehicle
Penalties for Violating Car Seat Regulations in Virginia
Failing to follow the child car seat laws in Virginia can come with strict penalties. If you break and laws relating to the booster car seat age or any other regulations, then you will receive a $50 civil penalty. Violating the law for a second or subsequent time will result in a fine of up to $500. If you are caught transporting a child who cannot use a traditional safety seat due to a medical condition and you do not have a written statement that exempts your child from the law, then you will receive a $20 fine in addition to paying traffic tickets related to car seats.
All fines collected from enforcing car seat regulations in VA will go to a special fund that helps low-income families buy car seats for their children. Note that drivers licensed in Virginia still need to follow the laws relating to child car seat safety regardless of their income. Families who do not have a car seat because they cannot afford one can contact the Virginia Department of Health, Division of Injury and Violence Prevention for assistance by calling 1-800-732-8333.
Types of Car Seats
Understanding the booster seat weight requirements is important when deciding between different types of safety seats. Remember, Virginia laws do not dictate the exact car seat weight your child needs to be at. Instead, you must follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when choosing the correct seat for your child. The following are three main types of seats that you can choose from, each of which is designed for a specific height, age or weight:
- Rear facing car seats should be used for infants until they are one year old and weigh at least 20 pounds. You may use a rear-facing seat until your child is around two years of age, provided that he or she still falls within the recommended weight or height specifications from the manufacturer.
- Forward facing car seats are designed for children who outgrow their rear-facing infant seat. Forward-facing seats are usually used when a child is between two and four years of age.
- A child booster seat can be used as soon as your child exceeds the maximum height or weight recommended for a forward-facing seat. Although booster seats are only required by law until children reach eight years of age, you should continue using a booster until your child is tall enough to safely use an adult seat belt.
Some of the best car seats on the market include convertible, combination and all-in-one designs. These seats transform from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat, and in some cases, even a booster seat, as soon as your child is tall enough to use the next type of seat.
Keep in mind that the safest car seats will provide as much support as possible. For example, you can purchase a booster seat with a high back if your vehicle does not have headrests or high enough seat backs, as this type of seat will help protect your child’s neck and head in a collision.
Car Seat Installation Information
Installing a car seat correctly is just as important as learning which type of seat to buy for your child. Keep these following points in mind for safe installation:
- Booster seats must be used with seat belts that have a lap and shoulder strap.
- All car seats should be secured in the back seat unless your car only has front seats. In this case, you must turn off the passenger airbag.
- Follow the manufacturer’s installation directions rather than making generalizations, as many car seats have different designs.
- Register your car seat with the manufacturer so that you are aware of recalls and other safety information.
- After installing a child car seat, have it inspected at a safety seat check station or a safety seat check event, both of which can be found in locations throughout Virginia.