The nitty gritty on car seat rules
Mary Piasta-Valluzzo and son, Bobby
Have you ever been amazed at all of the gear that is required to take care of a baby in our society? And how much of that stuff is truly necessary?
One of the most necessary purchases is a child’s car seat. But is it really as simple as walking in and buying the first one you see? With different models for different stages – infant seats, convertible seats and booster seats – you start asking questions. What’s the best model? When can your child transition from an infant seat to a convertible seat? When do they get to face forward? When does the booster seat come into play? And when do they graduate from these aids to the seatbelt? For answers, read on.
To help figure out the rules and recommended practices in California I reached out to Silvia Floriano, the community service officer for the Sonoma Sheriff’s Office. Here’s the deal for kids in California. There are basically four stages kids go through – the infant car seat stage, the forward facing car seat stage, the booster seat stage and then the seatbelt stage. For all of these stages, it is important to note that all children are required to be in a car seat unless they have special medical needs. For children with special medical needs, there are car seat options that are specially designed to accommodate the particular need.
Stage 1 - Infant Car Seats
Infant car seats are the ones that are “easily” taken out of the car. I have put easily in quotes, because personally I found it to be a pain. These car seats have a handle and look sort of like a bucket. These car seats must be installed in the back seat facing the rear of the car. They are not to be installed facing the front of the car.
A child can be in an infant car seat until they are 20-35 pounds depending upon the specifications of that particular car seat.
In general, children are required to ride rear-facing until their first birthday and they weigh at least 20 pounds. When your little one reaches both of these milestones - turn one and weigh over 20 pounds – he or she is able to graduate to a forward facing car seat.
Stage 2 - Forward Facing Car Seats
Again, if your child has turned one and weighs more than 20 pounds, they can advance to a forward-facing car seat. Forward-facing car seats can only be placed in the back seat.
That said, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children rear facing until they turn 2 or until they exceed the height and weight limit as listed on the car seat. The basic rationale behind this recommendation is that being rear facing is safer for kids in the event of an accident. For more information, check out the resources listed at the end of this article.
Stage 3 - Booster Seats
When your child reaches 40 pounds they are able to graduate to a booster seat. A booster seat must be used with both a lap and shoulder belt. Booster seats should only be used in the backseat of the car.
Stage 4 - Seatbelts
Finally when your child reaches 60 pounds, turns 6 or is more 4 feet 9 inches tall, they are able to graduate to using a seatbelt. Children under 12 are recommended to sit in the back seat by National Highway Traffic Safety Association. Officer Floriano advises that that practically speaking seatbelts do not properly fit children until they are between 8 and 11 years old.
What About Trucks & Convertibles?
Since we are in Sonoma, a town loaded with trucks and convertibles, the question arises: How does one safely transport a child in such a vehicle? Officer Floriano explained that technically, a child under age 6 who weighs less than 60 pounds may ride in the front seat of a vehicle if: (a) there is no forward facing rear seat in the vehicle; (b) the child restraint cannot be properly installed in a rear seat; (c) all rear seats are occupied by other children under age 12; or (d) for medical reasons. Infants, however, are not allowed to ride in the front seat if there is an active passenger air bag. Most modern cars however have a switch that will deactivate the air bag, so if your child must ride in the front seat, check for that.
Although technically the law allows children to ride in the front seat in certain situations, Officer Floriano recommends that all children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat due to the fact that these tend to be safer positions in the vehicle and the dangers of the damage air bags can cause.
Hopefully this will help you navigate the rules about transporting your young ones. For more information on car seat rules and regulations in California, check out:http://www.safekids.org/in-your-area and http://www.chp.ca.gov/community/pdf/4_steps_for_kids.pdf; further information about keeping children rear facing until they turn 2, http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/21/car.seat.guidelines.parenting/index.html. In addition, you can always contact Safe Kids Sonoma County, led by Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Trauma Services, at 525-3500.