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Child Passenger Safety Laws: Protecting Your Family After a Crash

Car accidents are one of the leading causes of death and injury for children in the United States. According to the CDC, 607 child passengers ages 12 and younger were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, and more than 63,000 were injured. Of the children who died from their injuries, 38% were not buckled up.


As a parent or caregiver, you want to do everything you can to keep your children safe on the road. That’s why it’s vital to understand California’s child passenger safety laws and how they can help you protect your family after a crash.


Our car accident attorneys are here to clarify child passenger safety laws in California and how you can better protect your family before and after a crash.

What Are the Child Passenger Safety Laws in California?

Child passenger safety laws are state laws that require children to travel in age- and size-appropriate child restraints, such as car seats, booster seats, or seat belts, when riding in a vehicle. These laws are effective for increasing restraint use and reducing child deaths and injuries.


In California, the child passenger safety laws are as follows:


  • Children under two years old must ride in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat unless they weigh 40 pounds or more or are 40 inches or taller.
  • Children under eight must ride in a car or booster seat in the back seat unless they are 4 feet 9 inches or taller.
  • Children eight years old and older, or 4 feet 9 inches or taller, must use a seat belt in any seat.
  • Children under 13 should ride in the back seat whenever possible for their safety.

These laws apply to all drivers and passengers in California, regardless of where they reside. The only exceptions are for medical reasons, emergencies, or vehicles that do not have back seats.

Why Are Child Passenger Safety Laws Important?

Child passenger safety laws are based on scientific evidence and best practices that show how to prevent or reduce the severity of injuries for children in a crash.


Data show that:


  • Car seat use reduces the risk of injury in crashes by 71–82% for children, compared with seat belt use alone.
  • Booster seat use reduces the risk of serious injury by 45% for children ages 4–8, compared with only seat belt use.
  • Seat belts reduce the risk of death and serious injury by about half for older children and adults.

Child passenger safety laws also provide clear and consistent guidelines for parents and caregivers on choosing and using the proper restraint for their child’s age, weight, and height. This can help avoid confusion and mistakes that could compromise the child’s safety.

How Can I Choose and Use the Right Restraint for My Child?

Here are some tips on making the best choice:


  1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and labels on the car or booster seat for installation, adjustment, and expiration date. You can also check the owner’s manual of your vehicle for specific information on how to install and use child restraints in your car.
  2. Make sure the car seat or booster seat fits snugly and securely in your vehicle. You should not be able to move it more than one inch from side to side or front to back. If you need help, you can visit a certified child passenger safety technician or a car seat inspection station near you for a free checkup.
  3. Ensure the harness or seat belt fits snugly and correctly. The harness straps should be at or below the child’s shoulders for rear-facing seats and at or above their shoulders for forward-facing seats. The chest clip should be at the armpit level. The seat belt should be across the child’s upper thighs (not the stomach), and the shoulder belt should be across the center of the shoulder and chest (not the neck or face).
  4. Keep your child in the rear-facing car seat as long as possible until they reach the maximum weight or height limit of the seat. This offers the best protection for their head, neck, and spine.
  5. Let your child use the car or booster until they are ready for a seat belt. A seat belt fits properly when the youngster can sit back against the seat, with their knees bent at the edge of the seat, while the belt remains in the correct position. Set a good example for your child by always wearing your seat belt and requiring everyone in the vehicle to buckle up. This will help your child develop a lifelong habit of seat belt use and reduce the risk of injury for everyone in the car.

What Are My Rights if My Child Is Injured in a Crash?

If your child is injured in a crash caused by someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional acts, you may have the right to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the responsible party. This can help you recover compensation for your child’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other losses related to the injury.


However, personal injury cases can be complex and challenging, especially when they involve children. You may face difficulties in proving liability, causation, and damages and dealing with insurance companies, medical providers, and legal procedures. You may also run into time limits, called statutes of limitations, that restrict how much time you have to file a claim or lawsuit.


You would do best to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer who can advise you on your rights and options and help you protect your child’s best interests. A lawyer can also help you gather evidence, negotiate with the insurance company, and represent you in court if necessary.


A Dedicated Team

At HHJ Trial Attorneys, we’re a team of committed and compassionate personal injury lawyers who have helped many families in California recover compensation for children’s injuries. We understand the physical, emotional, and financial impact of these injuries, and we dedicate every effort to fighting for justice and fair compensation for our clients.


If your child was injured in a crash, contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.



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