California car seat laws are changing, effective January 1, 2012. It pays to know what the changes are come the New Year, so we’ve broken them down here.

According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) website, the current California car seat law, which expires December 31, 2011, reads as follows:

“Children MUST be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) IN THE BACK SEAT OF A VEHICLE until they are at least 6 YEARS OLD or weigh at least 60 pounds.”

Beginning on January 1, 2012, this is the new California car seat law:

“Children MUST be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) IN THE BACK SEAT OF A VEHICLE until they are at least 8 YEARS OLD or 4’ 9” (four feet nine inches) in height.”

The law was revised because research has found that children are at greater risk when riding in the front seat of a vehicle. Moving a child from the front seat to the rear seat reduces their risk of injury by 33 percent.

Exemptions to the California Car Seat Law

There are a few exemptions to the California car seat law. A child may ride in the front seat if:

  • Your vehicle has no rear seats.
  • Rear seats are side-facing jump seats. Note that child safety restraints must never be placed on side-facing vehicle seats.
  • The child restraint system cannot be properly installed in the rear seat. For example, if your vehicle has lap belts only in the back seat, but there are lap and shoulder belts in the front seat, this is an exemption from the law. Your child is five years old and weighs 45 pounds and must ride in a booster seat. The booster seat must be used with a lap and shoulder belt, thus, your child may ride in the front seat.
  • Children under the age of 12 occupy all the rear seats.
  • You have a medical reason, written by the pediatrician, requiring that your child not be restrained in the back seat. Note that all children are safer in the back seat. Consider asking another adult to ride with the child in the back seat.

Other Useful Tips About Car Safety Seats

If you’re unclear or worried about whether you’re using your child’s car seat properly, have it inspected. There are many nationally certified child passenger safety technicians located throughout California. Check with your local health department or the CHP to find a technician near you. Another source to check is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website where you can locate a child safety seat “fitting” station.

If you need to report a safety-related defect in your child’s safety seat or your car, also go to the NHTSA website.

You can report unrestrained children riding in a motor vehicle in the state of California by contacting the California Highway Patrol at 1-800-TELLCHP.

For more information on California car seat laws, check out this flyer which summarizes the state’s vehicle restraint laws.

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