Traveling Safely with Children: New California Laws for Car Seat, Booster Seat & Seat Belt Safety

It’s that time of year for summer road trips, camp activities and family recreation. It is vital that parents and childcare providers keep themselves educated on the most current car seat, booster seat and seat belt laws and the best safety practices. 

On January 1, 2017, California updated its car seat and seat belt safety laws. The new law states, “Children under two years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall. The child shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.”

There is only one exception to the law and it’s quite rare – children ages two and under are only allowed to sit in a front facing car seat if they weigh more than 40 pounds or are over 40 inches tall. The average two-year-old weighs 28 pounds and is 34 inches tall.

The most common type of car accident is a front-end collision, which causes passengers to lurch forward. Infants and toddlers have much heavier heads in proportion to their bodies and during an accident, the head can extend too far forward causing permanent damage to the neck and spine. In some cases, these types of accidents can leave the child paralyzed or worse.

According to California Highway Patrol, young children are five times more likely to experience serious injuries in an accident when they are placed in a front facing car seat. A rear-facing car seat is far safer because the child’s head, neck and back are fully supported by the seat instead of flying forward with the momentum of the crash. Additionally, rear-facing car seats are specially designed to absorb the shock of the crash and cradle the child’s body.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents to keep their children in each stage of car seat use for as long as possible. It is important to note that no car seat, including rear-facing car seats, should ever be placed in the front seat of a car. The force of an airbag during a car crash can actually crush a car seat and seriously injure a child and the airbag could still deploy even if it is disabled.

Remember to double check the recommended reclining angle of a rear-facing car seat for your baby’s safety. The fit of a car seat is extremely important, so you should always have your installation inspected by your local California Highway Patrol or organizations like HHSA Shasta County Public Health and AAA.

Although the state-wide law for car seats has changed, California booster seat laws remain the same:  Children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat. Children who are 8 years of age OR have reached 4’9” in height must be secured by a safety belt. Passengers who are 16 years of age and over are subject to California’s Mandatory Seat Belt law.

If the lap belt does not sit low on the hips and touch the upper thighs and if the shoulder belt doesn’t cross the center of the chest, the child must continue to use a booster or harnessed car seat. Many seat belts were designed to fit 165-pound male adults, so a poorly fitted seat belt can do more harm than good. Some car manufacturers offer family vehicles with built-in booster seats that are height adjustable.

It’s crucial in warmer weather to keep in mind that a car acts like a greenhouse. Make sure young children are shaded with a special window cover while driving and never leave a child in the car alone. According to San Francisco State University professor Jan Null, “Children have died in cars with the temperatures outside as low as 63 degrees. The temperature inside the car can quickly reach to 113 degrees.”

It is your responsibility to make sure your children are as safe as possible in the car. Sometimes, children and even teenagers don’t want to wear seat belts and everyone knows that toddlers can be like little Houdinis at times. However, every driver must refuse to move their car until every passenger – no matter their age – has been buckled in safely. Be sure to set a good example by always wearing your seat belt and remember, “Click it or ticket!” 

North State Resources for Car Seat & Booster Seat Inspections

Butte County:

California Highway Patrol
995 Fir St., Chico
Call for appointment: (530) 879-1999    

Butte County Public Health Dept.
2491 Carmichael Dr., Chico
Call Ann Dickman for appointment: (530) 879-7554

2221 Forest Ave., Chico
Call Sydney Petyo for appointment: (530) 332-2614    

California Highway Patrol
2072 3rd St., Oroville
Call Todd Irvin for appointment: (530) 538-2700    

1430 Feather River Blvd., Oroville
Call Katie DeMuth for appointment: (530) 538-8912    

Butte County Public Health Dept.
79 Table Mountain Blvd., Oroville
Call Tou Chanh for appointment: (530) 538-5299    

Shasta County:

California Highway Patrol
2485 Sonoma St., Redding
(530) 242-4300

HHSA Shasta County Public Health
2660 Breslauer Way, Redding
Call Maureen Robison for appointment: (530) 245-6877    

943 Mission de Oro Dr., Redding
Call Janelle Valencia for appointment: (530) 722-1628    

Siskiyou County:

California Highway Patrol
618 West Jessie St., Mt. Shasta
Call for appointment: (530) 926-2627

California Highway Patrol
1739 South Main St., Yreka
Call for appointment: (530) 841-6006    

1876 Fort Jones Rd., Yreka
Call Susan Crow for appointment: (530) 841-6351    

Tehama County:

Corning Police Department
774 Third St., Corning
Call Tom Watson for appointment: (530) 824-7014    

Tehama County Health Services Agency
Please call for car seat inspection dates
WIC Office, 275 Solano St., Corning
(530) 698-4942
WIC Office, 1850 Walnut St., Red Bluff
(530) 527-8791

These offices also provide $25 car seats.

About Jennifer Wirth

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