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.
California law requires that all children under the age of eight be secured:
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.
California law requires all children who are under two years old to be secured:
The rear-facing child seat requirement doesn't apply for children weighing 40 pounds or more or who are 40 inches or taller.
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.)
A court can make an exception to any of the child safety restraint laws when the application of the law would be impractical because of a child's:
And generally, a parent is excused from placing a child who is under eight years old in the back seat (see requirement above) when:
A rear-facing car seat can't, however, be put in the front seat when there are active front passenger airbags.
The "base 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.
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.
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.