North Carolina’s Child Car Seat and Seatbelt Laws

North Carolina’s child safety seat laws and the penalties of a violation.

All vehicle occupants must wear seatbelts in the state of North Carolina. And depending on height, weight, and age, the child occupants may be required to use a child passenger restraint system. Child restraint systems include rear- and forward-facing car seats and booster seats. This article explains the requirements of North Carolina's seatbelt and child restraint laws and the penalties for violations.

Car Seat and Seatbelt Requirements

The driver is responsible for ensuring all vehicle passengers under 16 years old are properly secured.

Children under eight years old. Children under eight years old must be properly secured in a weight-appropriate child passenger restraint system. Once a child is at least 80 pounds, he or she is no longer required to use a car seat or booster. If no shoulder strap is available, a child weighing at least 40 pounds can use a lap belt without a booster seat.

When a Child Can Sit in the Front Seats of a Car

Any children under five years old and under 40 pounds must be secured in the rear seat of the vehicle if available. (Exceptions exist for vehicles not equipped with airbags and car seats designed for airbag use.) So kids who are at least five years old or at least 40 pounds are generally allowed to sit in the front seats of a vehicle.

Car Seat and Seatbelt Ticket Penalties

A child restraint or an under-16 seatbelt violation will result in a maximum $25 fine plus court. The driver will also be assessed two license demerit points. For child restraint violations, the court will dismiss the charge if the driver shows proof of acquiring an appropriate child seat.

If a violation occurs in a fully autonomous vehicle, the parent or guardian will be liable for the violation.

An occupant who's at least 16 years old and fails to wear a seatbelt will be fined $25.50 plus court costs, or $10 if riding in the rear seat. The ticket is issued to the violating occupant and no license points are assessed. A seatbelt violation alone cannot be used as grounds for a traffic stop.

Offending drivers with learner permits will be subject to additional penalties.

Restraint System Recommendation Based on Age

The North Carolina Department of Transportation provides tips on choosing a car seat. These recommendations are based on age, but car seats should always be used consistent with the manufacturer's recommendations.

Birth

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13+

Rear-facing

Forward-facing

Booster

Belt

Rear-Facing Car Seats

Generally, young kids are safest in rear-facing car seats. Parents should typically continue to use a rear-facing seat until the child outgrows the manufacturer's specifications.

Forward-Facing Car Seats

Once a child gets too big for a rear-facing seat, the next step up is a forward-facing car seat. Generally, the parents should continue to use the forward-facing seat until the child outgrows the manufacturer's specifications.

Booster Seats

A booster seat is the final step before a child graduates to a regular seatbelt. Again, a child should use a booster seat as specified by the manufacturer's instructions.

Exceptions

Rural mail carriers, garbage collectors, emergency responders, and newspaper deliverers are exempt from the seatbelt law. Older vehicles are exempt from federal seatbelt requirements and motor homes (for passengers seated in the rear area) are also exempt. Finally, a passenger will be exempt from the safety restraint laws if a physician has certified that a physical or mental condition precludes the use of a seatbelt or restraint.

More Information and Resources

For more information about child restraint systems, check the recommendations of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's also a good idea to register your car seat to be notified regarding recalls.

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