Keep Kids Safe in the Car
Car crashes are a leading cause of fatal injury for Washington children. Keep your children safe for travel by choosing the right child restraint (car seat, booster seat or seat belt) and by reading all instruction manuals carefully. Explore the information below to learn more about motor vehicle safety.
Child Restraint Laws
Every state has its own child passenger restraint laws. Here’s what Washington law requires:
- Vehicle occupants of any age must be restrained properly. The driver is held responsible for properly securing all passengers under the age of 16.
- Children under age 13 must ride in the back seat, whenever possible.
- Children must ride in an appropriate car safety seat until they reach age 8 or 4 feet 9 inches tall, whichever comes first. Car safety seats (car seats or booster seats) must be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Children who have reached age 8 or 4 feet 9 inches tall may use an adult seat belt if it fits properly (see Step 4 below). If the seat belt cannot be adjusted to fit the child’s body, continue to use a car safety seat until it does.
Tips for Choosing the Right Seat
Car seats, vehicles and children come in all shapes and sizes. Choose a car seat that fits your specific child and can be installed properly in your vehicle. Ease of use is important—car seats that are easy to install and adjust are more likely to be used correctly. Be wary of used car seats because they may be damaged, recalled, expired or have missing pieces.
The following reflects current best practice recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Safety Administration on choosing a car seat.
The safest way to travel is in a rear-facing car seat. Keep children rear-facing as long as possible, until they reach the height/weight limits of their convertible car seat (usually 40–50 pounds).
Choose infant car seats with low shoulder harness slots—they fit newborns best. Buy a convertible seat with high rear-facing weight and height limits for added safety.
Keep children in a 5-point harness as long as possible. When your child reaches the rear-facing limits of their convertible car seat, transition to forward-facing. Forward-facing seats are often rated up to 50–65 pounds. Some are rated to 80+ pounds.
Choose a seat with high weight limits and high harness slots to keep kids snug in a harness for longer.
Children who have reached the weight or height limit of their forward-facing car seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the adult seat belt can fit properly. Always use booster seats with a seat belt that has both lap and shoulder portions (never with a lap-only belt).
If your child isn’t mature enough to leave the seat belt in place while in a booster, a five-point harness is a safer choice. Look for a harnessed car seat with high weight and height limits that fit big kids longer.
Per Washington Law, your child must use a properly fitted car seat or booster seat until at least age 8 or 4’9” tall, and ride in the back seat until age 13.
Seat Belt Readiness Test
There is no single age, weight or height that can ensure the proper fit of a seat belt in every vehicle. It’s important that your child is able to pass all of the following requirements of the Seat Belt Readiness Test in every vehicle:
Scoot all the way against the vehicle’s seat back.
- Cross the shoulder belt between the neck and shoulder.
- Keep feet flat on the floor.
- Fit the lap belt so it’s low across the upper thighs (not up on the belly).
- Bend knees at the edge of the vehicle seat.
- When shopping for a car, look for vehicles that have lap-and-shoulder seat belts and head rests for every seat.
At age 13 your child can legally ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle, wearing their lap and shoulder seat belt correctly. Always check for airbag warnings.
Tips for Using Harnesses
- Route the harness through the nearest slot at or below your child’s shoulder in a rear-facing car seat.
- Route the harness through the nearest slot at or above your child’s shoulder in a forward-facing car seat.
- Adjust the harness snugly on your child’s shoulder. If you can pinch the harness between your fingers (at the child’s collarbone), it’s too loose.
- Place the chest clip at armpit level.
- Don’t add any aftermarket car seat accessories (additional padding, harness covers or belt tighteners, for example) that were not made specifically for your car seat. They have not been crash-tested with your seat and can be dangerous.
Tips for Installing Car Seats
- Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for any restrictions on where you can install a car seat. (Washington law requires that children ride in the back seat, whenever possible.)
- Never install a rear-facing car seat by an active front passenger airbag.
- Consult your car seat instruction manual for guidance on how to achieve the proper recline angle.
- Install rear-facing car seats so they are in a semi-reclined position. (The level indicator, often found on the side of the car seat, shows if the seat is not sitting at the proper angle.)
- Install most forward-facing car seats in an upright position.
- Consult your vehicle owner’s manual to determine which seats have lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) and how to lock your seat belts.
- Install your car seat with either the LATCH system or a seat belt, not both at the same time.
- Route your seat belt or LATCH anchors through the correct belt path on the car seat.
- Push down on the car seat while tightening the seat belt or LATCH straps.
- Make sure to lock seat belts, if using them. This may involve using a locking latch plate, locking retractor, locking clip, or built-in lock-off.
- Grasp the car seat next to the belt path with one hand and tug directly to the side—if it moves more than one inch from side to side, tighten the belt again. If you are unable to achieve a tight fit, try a different seating position or a different car seat.
- Read and follow the tethering instructions in your manual when installing a forward-facing car seat.
We offer free car seat inspections at three locations. Call us at 253-403-1417 to set up an appointment or get more information. You can also learn about car safety for kids during warm weather by watching this video: