Virginia's Child Restraint Laws

Learn about child restraint requirements, laws, and penalties in Virginia.

Virginia has laws mandating protection for children in cars. The following table indicates Virginia’s requirements. The types of child restraints are discussed in more detail below:

Virginia Child Restraint Requirements

Age/Weight/Height

Appropriate Restraint

Children under 8 must be properly secured in a child safety restraint system in a seat of the vehicle.

infant only/rear-facing or convertible seat rear-facing

convertible seat forward facing or forward facing seat

booster seat

Age 8 and above

Booster seat or shoulder/lap seat belt

Rear-facing child restraint devices must be placed in the back seat of a vehicle. In the event the vehicle does not have a back seat, the child restraint device may be placed in the front passenger seat only if the vehicle is either not equipped with a passenger side airbag or the passenger side airbag has been deactivated.

Children can no longer ride unrestrained in the rear cargo area of vehicles.

Penalties

Failure to follow this law results in a fine of $50 for a first offense and up to $500 for a second offense. Charges may be dismissed upon proof of acquisition of seat.

The Types Of Restraints

 There are three variables for child seats -- age, weight and height of the child – and these variable are applied across various types of restraints:

(1) Rear-facing seats and (infant) rear-facing only seats  (for infants) -- Refers to the position where the child's car seat is turned to face the back of the vehicle. The rear-facing position supports the entire head, neck, and back, cradles and moves with the child to reduce stress to the neck and spinal cord in a crash. A rear-facing only seat is a child restraint system designed for use only by a young child in a rear-facing position – also called an “infant-only” seat. 

(2) Forward-facing child safety seats (for toddlers; children around the age of learning to walk) -- a car seat intended for use only in the forward-facing position for a child at least age 1 and at least 20 pounds up to the specified limits of the seat, set by the manufacturer.

(3) Convertible seats. (infant to toddler) --  A car seat that converts from rear-facing for babies and smaller children to forward-facing for older and larger children. 

(4) Booster seats (typically for children under four feet, nine inches) -- a booster seat correctly positions the seat belt by “boosting” the child so the lap and shoulder belt fit properly.  The lap belt should be low and tight across the hips and the shoulder belt should fit cross the chest and not rest against the neck or face. Proper belt fit is very important.   Booster seats can have high back (for use in vehicles with no head restraint) or no back/backless (for use in vehicles with head restraints).

(5) Lap/Shoulder Belts (for adults and older children) – A lap/shoulder belt is a seat belt secured to the framework of a seat or car and fastening across the lap and shoulder of a driver

Recalls

A surprising number of child seat manufacturers have issued recalls for their products. Unless you’re one of the few consumers who register the seat after purchase, your chances of receiving notification or learning about the recall are not good. You can increase your chances of notification by following the NHTSA registration instructions. Or you can search for service bulletins at the NHTSA site.

When Must a Child Seat Be Replaced?

Here’s where you can find a child restraint inspection center in Virginia. Like motorcycle helmets and other auto safety equipment, child restraints are considered to have a shelf-life -- that is a period of time after which their safety features may be compromised. Most experts agree that as a result of wear and tear, and changes in temperature and exposure (which causes the plastic to crack and lose effectiveness), the shelf life for a child’s seat is approximately six years. In addition, if you car is involved in moderate or severe crash, regardless of whether a child is in the seat, the seat should be replaced. Seats do not need to be replaced in the event of a minor crash – one in which the vehicle could drive away without visible damage, nobody was injured, the airbags did not deploy and the vehicle door near the seat suffered no damage.

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