California’s Child Safety Seat and Seatbelt Laws

California’s car safety seat and seatbelt requirements for children, and the penalties for a violation.

California’s child safety seat and seatbelt requirements differ depending on the age and size of the child. The law also includes exceptions for certain types of vehicles and where circumstances make the rules impractical.

Here are the basics of the law and the penalties for a violation.

Children Under Eight Years Old

California law requires that all children under the age of eight be secured:

  • in an “appropriate” child passenger restraint system that meets federal standards
  • that’s in the back seat.

The appropriateness of a car seat usually depends on the age and size of the kid. But generally, it’s going to be one of three types: rear-facing, forward-facing, or a booster seat. However, for children who are 4’ 9” or taller, the law requires only a seatbelt. (Read about the different types of safety seats and restraints.)

(Cal. Veh. Code §§ 27360(a), 27363(d) (2017).)

Children Under Two Years Old

California enacted a new child safety seat law that took effect on January 1, 2017. The legislation requires all children who are under two years old to be secured:

  • in a rear-facing car seat that meets federal standards
  • in the back seat, and
  • in a manner that complies with the seat manufacturer’s height and weight specifications.

The rear-facing child seat requirement doesn’t apply for children weighing 40 pounds or more or who are 40 inches or taller. (Cal. Veh. Code § 27360(a) (2017).)

Children Between Eight and 16 Years Old

With children who are at least eight but less than 16 years old, parents are responsible for ensuring the child is secured in an appropriate child seat or seatbelt. For many kids in this age range, a safety belt—rather than a car seat—is the appropriate type of restraint. (For more information on choosing the right car seat, go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.)

(Cal. Veh. Code § 27360.5 (2017).)

Exceptions

A court can make an exception to any of the child safety restraint laws when application of the law would be impractical because of a child’s:

  • physical unfitness
  • medical condition, or
  • size.

And generally, a parent is excused from placing a child who is under eight years old in the back seat (see requirement above) when:

  • there is no back seat
  • the rear seats are side-facing jump seats
  • the back seats are rear facing
  • the child seat can’t be installed properly in the back seat
  • all the rear seats are occupied by children under the age of eight, or
  • medical reasons require that the child ride in a front seat.

A rear-facing car seat can’t, however, be put in the front seat when there are active front passenger airbags. (Cal. Veh. Code § 27363 (2017).)

Penalties

The “based fine” for a first violation of California’s child safety seat law is $100. For a second or subsequent offense, the base fine is increased to $250. However, the base fine is only a portion of the total cost of the violation. Once all the fees and “penalty assessments” are added in, a first offender could end up paying over $475. And a second offense can run upward of $1,000.

A judge can also require anyone convicted of a safety seat violation to complete an educational program dealing with proper installation and use of child car seats. To waive or reduce a fine for an economically disadvantaged person, the judge generally must order that the person complete such a program.  

Child safety seat violations count as one “point” on the motorist’s driving record. (Read more about California’s traffic violation point system.)

However, a driver can’t be cited for a child safety seat violation if a parent of the child is also a passenger in the vehicle.

(Cal. Veh. Code §§ 27360, 27360.5, 27360.6, 12810(h) (2017).)

Child Safety Seat Recalls

From time to time, recalls are issued for child safety seats. To find out about recalls, you can register with the NHTSA to receive recall information about the seat you have or search for recalls that have already been issued.

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