What are North Carolina’s laws on child safety seats?

Parents, grandparents and other caregivers of young children in North Carolina should understand the laws for child safety seats in vehicles.

Most parents, teachers, caregivers and other relatives of young children in North Carolina know that some form of car seat or restraint is required when kids ride in vehicles. However, what exactly are the laws and when can a child move from one type of restraint system to another? What might happen if the laws are not properly followed? Why are there even such laws? These are just some of the questions that are frequently asked.

Why child restraints matter

The American Academy of Pediatrics is a big proponent of the need to use child restraints in motor vehicles. They report that the utilization of these seats and systems have reduced the chances of death for infants and children involved in vehicle accidents. The reductions in death risk range from 45 percent for kids between four and eight years old to 71 percent for babies.

North Carolina's laws

Infants must always ride in rear-facing car seats and it is important to note that the North Carolina General Assembly requires these to be in back seats of vehicles, not in front seats. Children three or younger or who weigh 39 pounds or less and have outgrown rear-facing seats should ideally also ride in the back seat of a car in their car seats. If there is no front airbag on a passenger side or if it can be turned off, they may be allowed to ride in the front seat.

The AAP recommends that babies are kept in their rear-facing seats until they reach the maximum height and weight for those seats. That is generally around the age of two. Similarly, toddlers in five-point harness car seats are recommended to ride in these restraints until they surpass the size limits of such seats.

Perhaps one aspect of the law that is commonly misunderstood is about when children should transition out of booster seats. According to Buckle Up North Carolina, if a child is seven years old or younger and 79 pounds or less, a booster seat is required. A child who is at least eight years old or at least 80 pounds may be allowed to ride without a booster seat. For example, if a child is six years old and weighs 85 pounds, a booster seat is not required. The same is true for a child who is nine years old and 75 pounds.

Penalties for violating the law

The North Carolina Department of Safety explains that drivers are responsible for adhering to child safety seat laws. Anyone who does not abide by these laws may be required to pay up to $25 in fines and may also receive two points on a driver's license record.

The state of North Carolina recognizes the important job that child restraints play in saving kids' lives when accidents happen. Anyone involved in an accident with a child in the car should talk to an attorney to learn how and when they should seek compensation.