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California Car Insurance: Car Seat Laws - Protecting Precious Cargo

By Insurance.com Posted : 02/19/2007

Children are undoubtedly the most precious cargo that any parent carries in their automobile. Nevertheless, improper usage of child restraint systems needlessly injures thousands of children on California's roads each year. While some of these injuries are caused by clear violations of California's car seat law, advocates for broader car seat laws claim that many of the injuries occur because California's car seat law doesn't go far enough.

According to California's car seat law:

  • Children must be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system (safety or booster seat) until they are at least 6 years old or weigh at least 60 pounds
  • Those children younger than 1 year or less than 20 pounds must be seated in a rear-facing restraint system. That system must be in the rear seat if the front passenger bag is active; otherwise, the system may be placed in the front passenger seat.

Thus, under the California car seat law, children over 6 years old or 60 pounds may ride in a vehicle using a standard adult safety belt. The problem with this according to advocates is that most children under 80 pounds are too small for an adult seat belt. As demonstrated on the California Highway Patrol's website, adult seat belts can actually be dangerous to children because the belt cuts directly across their neck instead of snug across the center of their shoulder. This can lead to serious injury or even death in the event of an accident.

So what's a safety-conscious parent to do? Car seat safety advocates recommend that Californians follow one of the following guidelines:

  • The National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) recommends that children over 40 pounds use a belt-positioning booster seat until they are 8 years old, unless they are 4'9" or taller.
  • The American Academy of Pediatricians goes a bit further and advocates for booster seat use until the child reaches 4'9" in height and is between 8 and 12 years of age.

If your child resists using a belt-positioning booster, experts recommend the following:

  • Avoid referring to the seat as a "car seat" or "baby seat." Instead, use the terms "booster seat", "safety seat" or "big boy/girl seat."
  • If your car's back seat has headrests, consider using a backless booster which looks less like a "real" car seat to most children.
  • Discuss car safety with your children and the reasons a booster keeps them safe.
  • Play up the benefits of a booster such as an improved view out the window, cup holders, and arm rests.

In the end, the California car seat law should be viewed as a starting point for any child's traveling safety. Parents should take into consideration their child's unique height, weight, and other attributes that may impact their use of standard, adult seat belts. And if you have any doubts about what's the right thing to do, simply err on the side of caution. After all, you're protecting your most precious cargo.

The California car seat law can be found at:
California Highway Patrol's website:

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