California’s basic car seat law is set forth in Vehicle Code 27360 VC. This statute states that all children ages eight years and younger must ride in the back seat of a motor vehicle and do so while secured in an appropriate child restraint system. Depending on the age, height, and weight of a child, this restraint system could be a rear-facing seat, forward-facing seat, or booster seat.
Once children reach the age of eight, they are free to ride in the front passenger seat of a motor vehicle. But according to California’s seat belt law, Vehicle Code 27315 VC, all children eight and older who are in a moving vehicle must wear a safety belt. Drivers who are 16 years or older must do the same.
- $100 for a first-time violation, or
- $250 if a repeat violation.
Note that sometimes a driver violates a car seat law and then injures another party, either a child or some other person. In these cases, the injury victim can use the violation to help establish negligence. Negligent drivers have to compensate injured victims for their:
- medical bills and medical expenses,
- lost wages,
- lost earning capacity,
- property damage, and
- pain and suffering.
Also note that if a driver violates a child restraint system law, and in doing so exposes a child to some unjustifiable danger, then a prosecutor could charge the driver with child endangerment, per Penal Code 273a PC.
A child endangerment conviction is normally a misdemeanor punishable by:
- up to one year in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.
Our California personal injury lawyers will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What are California’s child car seat laws?
- 2. Can a child ever ride in a front-seat restraint system?
- 3. Are children allowed to ride in the front seat in California?
- 4. What are the laws on children and seat belts?
- 5. What are the penalties for violating a car seat law?
- 6. Are there legal defenses?
- 7. Do car seat violations have an impact on a personal injury suit?
- 8. Can the state file criminal charges if there is a car seat law violation?
1. What are California’s child car seat laws?
California State law imposes two basic car seat laws for children. These are:
- all children under eight years of age must sit in the back or rear seat of a motor vehicle, and
- when in the back seat of the vehicle, children must be secured in a child restraint system that is appropriate for their age and weight.1
Note that “appropriate” child restraint systems (including convertible car seats) are determined by state law and federal motor vehicle safety standards.2
Further, laws vary on whether a child is in a:
- rear-facing seat,
- forward facing seat, and
- booster seat.
Different rules apply to each type of restraint system, specifically with regards to a child’s weight, height, and age.
1.1. California rear-facing car seat laws
State laws and car seat safety standards say that young children 2 years old or younger (including newborns) must sit in the rear of a vehicle in a rear-facing car seat. Children must remain in an infant car seat until they are at least:
- forty pounds in weight, and
- forty inches tall.3
Children aged two or greater must continue to use a rear-facing seat until they weigh at least forty pounds.
Parents must secure their children in an infant seat in a manner that complies with the instructions issued by the manufacturer of the car seat.
The car seat owner’s manual should have instructions on how to use car seats in conjunction with a vehicle’s safety belts, lap belts, and shoulder belts. If questions, people can contact the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or local public health department to speak to a child passenger safety technician.
1.2. Forward-facing car seat laws
California’s car seat safety laws on forward-facing car seats say that a child can transfer from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat when all of the following are true:
- the child is over the age of two,
- the child weighs at least forty pounds, and
- the child is at least forty inches tall.4
As with rear-facing seats, parents must secure their children in forward-facing seats in a manner that complies with the child safety seat guides issued by the seat’s manufacturer.
1.3. Booster car seat laws California
According to California booster seat laws, children can switch from a front-facing seat to a booster seat when they have exceeded the height limits and weight limits for their particular front-facing restraint system.
Most manufacturers say that children can graduate from a front-facing seat when they weigh 65 pounds or more.
2. Can a child ever ride in a front-seat restraint system?
Yes. The law allows children under the age of eight to ride in a front-seat restraint system when:
- there are no rear seats,
- the rear seats are side-facing jump seats,
- the rear seats are rear-facing seats,
- the child passenger restraint system cannot be installed properly in the rear seat,
- all rear seats are already occupied by children seven years old or younger, and/or
- medical reasons require the child to not ride in the back seat.5
Note, though, that children may not ride in the front seat of an airbag-equipped vehicle if they are in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system.
If parents, legal guardians, or other caregivers are using a restraint system in the front seat, they must follow any particular child passenger safety guides set forth by the system’s manufacturer.
The law encourages restraint systems to be used in the rear seat of a vehicle since the airbag systems in a vehicle’s front seat pose a safety risk to children.
3. Are children allowed to ride in the front seat in California?
Yes. Children in California can ride in the front passenger seat of a motor vehicle when they are eight years of age or older.
However, safety standards recommend keeping children in the rear seat because of risks associated with front airbags.
4. What are the laws on children and seatbelts?
When children are no longer required by law to ride in a restraint system, California seat belt law requires all occupants of a moving motor vehicle, eight years of age and older, to wear a safety belt.6
Further, any person 16 years or older must wear a seat belt when driving a vehicle.7
Child and adult seat belt use is critical for safe kids, children safety, and the safety of adult motorists. For example, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belt use in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017.8
5. What are the penalties for violating a car seat law?
If a driver violates one of California’s child restraint laws, he/she will receive a ticket and must pay an associated fine.
The fine for not using a child restraint system, or using the wrong one, is:
- $100 for the first violation, and
- $250 for every violation thereafter.9
Motorists that violate California’s car seat laws will also receive one point on their DMV driving records.10 Points placed on a person’s driving record get reported to that person’s insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in that person’s insurance rates for years.
Note that drivers cannot ignore a ticket if they fail to follow a California booster or car seat law. Ignoring a ticket will result in two things. These are:
- the driver violates a new law, California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation, and
- the driver will receive penalties for violating VC 40508.
A violation of Vehicle Code 40508 is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.11
6. Are there legal defenses?
Yes. A driver that receives a ticket for violating a California car seat law can contest it with a legal defense.
There are three common defenses in car seat violation cases. These include a defendant showing that:
- an emergency made it impossible to use a child restraint system,
- the child in question has a medical condition or other pediatric medical reason making the law impractical to follow, and,
- the parent or legal guardian of the child was a passenger in the motor vehicle.
As to the last defense, note that Vehicle Code 27360c specifically states:
“This section does not apply to a driver if the parent or legal guardian of the child is a passenger in the motor vehicle.”
7. Do car seat violations have an impact on a personal injury suit?
Car seat violation may have an impact on a personal injury lawsuit.
A driver that fails to follow one of California’s laws on car seats may cause a car accident in doing so. Further, this accident could cause an injury, either to a child or another party. If a person later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver (because of such injuries), the driver may be found “negligent.”
California law defines “negligence” as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others.
While it is sometimes difficult for an injury victim to prove that a driver was negligent, a driver is considered negligent per se if he/she violates a California state statute.
Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant’s violation of a statute or ordinance
This means a driver would be negligent per se for causing an accident while failing to use a child restraint system.
Negligent per se drivers must compensate injury victims for such things as:
- medical expenses,
- property damage,
- lost wages,
- future lost earnings,
- out-of-pocket expenses, and
- pain and suffering.
8. Can the state file criminal charges if there is a car seat law violation?
Yes. Depending on the facts of a case, the State of California could file criminal charges against a person that violates a car seat law, namely a child endangerment charge.
Per California Penal Code 273a, people commit the crime of child endangerment if they willfully expose a child under the age 18 to unjustifiable pain, suffering, or danger.
A person can be charged for subjecting the child to an unreasonable risk of harm even if the child never suffers actual physical harm.
Given this law, a prosecutor could charge a driver with child endangerment provided that:
- the driver willfully violates a car seat law, and
- the violation exposes a child to some unjustifiable danger.
A conviction of child endangerment is usually a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.12
For additional help…
If you or a loved one violated a California car seat law, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our personal injury attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- California Vehicle Code Section 27360 VC.
- See same.
- See same.
- See same. See also California’s Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, “California Driver Handbook – Occupant Protection.”
- California’s Department of Motor Vehicle’s website, “California Driver Handbook – Occupant Protection.”
- California Vehicle Code 27315 VC. California Vehicle Code 27360.5 VC.
- See same.
- NHTSA’s website, “Seat Belts.”
- See DMV.org.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.
- California Penal Code 273a(b) PC.