child restraint

Washington State’s Infant and Toddler Car Seat Laws

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations for car and booster seats in March of 2011, as follows:

  • Keep infants and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until at least two years old (previously one year old*) or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.
  • All children age two or older, or those younger than two who have outgrown the rear-facing seat, should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat.

*Washington State has not updated its law based on this recommendation. Legally, a toddler may ride in a forward facing seat at 12 months old as long as they meet the weight and height requirements of the car seat.

Washington State’s Child Restraint Laws

  • Children under 13 years old must be buckled into the back seat as long as it is “… practical to do so”. If a child is riding in a truck with only one row of seating, for example, then they are legally allowed to ride in the front.
  • Children must use a booster seat (child restraint) until they are 4’9” tall or up until they turn 8 years old, whichever comes first. 4’9” is the minimum height at which a person can use a shoulder strap correctly and comfortably. The seat belt should never be placed behind the back or up across the abdomen.
    • If you can answer yes to the following five questions then your child is ready to ride in the car without a child restraint system:
      1. Can the child sit all the way back against the seat?
      2. Can the child’s knees bend comfortably over the edge of the seat without slouching forward?
      3. When buckled, does the lap belt stay on the top part of the child’s thighs? (It should not move across the abdomen.)
      4. Is the shoulder belt able to stay centered on the child’s chest and shoulder?
      5. Can the child sit in that position for the duration of a trip?
  • The restraint system must be used correctly according to the car seat AND vehicle manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Older vehicles with lap-only seat belts are exempt from the requirement to use a booster seat as long as the child weighs at least 40 pounds.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines for both the child restraint and the vehicle.
  • The restraint system must be used correctly according to the car seat AND vehicle manufacturer’s instructions.

The fine for improperly restrained children in motor vehicles is at least $112 per child.

Washington State’s Seat Belt Laws

  • All vehicle occupants (driver and passengers) must be properly restrained in their seating positions.
  • The driver is responsible for properly securing all children under the age of 16.
  • Passengers 16 years of age and older are responsible for themselves and may receive their own citation if they are not properly restrained.
  • It is against the law to buckle one seat belt around two people or place the seat belt under the arm or behind the back. These practices are also dangerous, and can cause death or serious injury.

Washington’s Child Restraint Law

On June 1, 2007, Washington’s revised Child Restraint Law went into effect. This law is one of the toughest child restraint laws in the country, requiring booster seats for older children. The act is also called the Anton Skeen Act after four year old Anton Skeen who was killed in a rollover collision. She was using a shoulder belt in accordance to state law at the time but was thrown from the vehicle and crushed in the collision because her body was too small to gain the benefits of the seat belt.

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