Washington’s Child Restraint Law helps ensure you are correctly using the right seat for your child’s age and size. Following these requirements greatly reduces the chances of death or serious injury in a crash. Your child’s safety in the car requires the right seat, used the right way, every time.
Children up to age 2 must be properly secured in a rear-facing car seat.
Children ages 2-4 years must ride in a car seat with a harness (rear or forward facing).
Children 4 and older must ride in a car or booster seat until they are 4’9″ tall.
Children over height 4’9” must be secured by a properly fitted seat belt (typically starting at 8-12 years old).
Children up to age 13 must ride in the back seat when practical to do so.
Child restraint system must comply with U.S. DOT standards and be used according to vehicle and child restraint manufacturer.
For the best protection, a child should remain in each stage of restraint until they reach the maximum height and weight based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
To view the current Washington Child Passenger Restraint Law
Outside of Washington, laws regarding child safety restraints vary by state. The Governors Highway Safety Association offers a state-by-state overview of restraint laws.
Is my child ready for a seat belt?
Car crashes are a leading killer of children ages 1-13. Using the right seat can reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71%.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are there any exceptions to children having to stay rear-facing until 2 years? What about their legs?
A: The reason for extended rear-facing is to provide the best protection for a child. It provides better protection to their head, neck and spine. Some parents express concern about leg injuries however they are almost non-existent in rear-facing children. They are also worried about comfort for their child. A child is flexible and will find a comfortable spot for their legs. Their joints are far more flexible than ours are as adults. To us, sitting with your legs crossed or propped up for an extended period of time, seems uncomfortable; however young children handle it without a problem.
Q: I have a 14 year old child that is 4’8” tall. Do they have to use a booster?
A: Washington’s Child Restraint Law covers vehicle occupants up to the age of 16 years old. The upcoming changes are intended to apply up until the age of 13; when they can legally ride in the front seat of the vehicle. At this time, their body has had time to mature; their cartilage has strengthened to become more bone-like, intercostal muscles on rib cage are strengthening, fat is developing around their internal organs for protection, and their body has come into proportion of their head size. Law enforcement will be focusing on children 12 years and younger as they are more susceptible to injury in a crash.
If your child is under 16 and does not pass the 5-step test which ensures proper seat belt use; you may choose to have them continue with a booster seat.
Q: My mother is 43 years old but only 4’8”; does she need a booster seat?
A: Washington’s Child Restraint Law covers vehicle occupants up to the age of 16 years old.
A child’s body is very different from that of an adult. They are much more susceptible to injury or fatality in a crash for many reasons. Here are some…
- Head size is much larger in proportion to the rest of their body; which increases chance of spinal cord injury.
- Skeleton is made of cartilage and is turning to bone. Cartilage doesn’t absorb the energy generated in a crash like bone and allows intrusion to internal organs.
- Pelvic wall and rib cage are not fully developed; exposing internal organs.
- Lacks muscle structure and connective tissue; their chest wall is more flexible; it bends which allows intrusion.
- Brain, and other organs, has less of a fat layer that provides protection.
Q: I am having difficulty finding an appropriate booster for my child who is 7 years old and weighs over 100 pounds. Any suggestions?
Q: What if we have a large family and all four children, who are under 13 years old don’t fit in the back seat?
A: Washington’s Child Restraint law does include exceptions for large families. If the rear seat positions are occupied by properly restrained children, you may allow a child to sit in the front seat. Continue to ensure they are properly restrained (NEVER rear-facing in front of an airbag); however, they can be forward-facing and moved as far back from the dash/windshield as possible.
Q: My truck (or car) does not even have a back seat. Does that mean I can’t transport my 10 year old because they would be in the front seat?
A: Washington’s Child Restraint Law RCW 46.61.687 does have an exception for vehicles without a back seat; or seats that don’t allow installation of child restraints. Most vehicles without a back seat provide an option of turning the passenger side airbag off. Refer to your owner’s manual of the vehicle on proper use.
Q. I want to ensure I am transporting my child safely and legally however I am struggling to find a restraint that goes over 120 pounds. Any suggestions?
A: This can be a challenge and hoping the industry will provide additional options in the future as the need does exist. Even though a child is larger than his/her peers; their body still needs time to mature and grow stronger. It is what’s on the inside that counts.
Booster seat: https://www.combiusa.com/Kobuk-Air-Thru-Booster-Car-Seat-p/8970.htm 125 pounds 57 inches
Travel vest: https://www.ezonpro.com/our-products/transportation-vests/adjustable-push-button-vest-with-loops/ this is an example which goes to 168 pounds and uses tether(s) with installation.
You may find additional options by searching the internet or here…
Q: I use my vehicle for a ride-sharing company like Uber or Lyft. I heard that “for-hire” vehicle are exempt from the child restraint laws. Is that true?
A: In order to be exempt from the child restraint requirements, a “for hire” vehicle will be registered as such and it will be indicated on the registration under “use” field as F/H or CAB. Most taxi cab companies have their vehicles registered as such.
Personal vehicles used as a ride-hailing company, such as Uber or Lyft, are not exempt from Washington’s child restraint law unless they have the proper registration.
Even when exempt, it is important to ensure all occupants are properly restrained to avoid any liability in the event of a crash.
Q: What about school buses? Shouldn’t they have seat belts on them?
A: School buses are exempt from the child restraint law. We are all familiar with the large, yellow buses that regularly transport children to school. One of the main reasons belts aren’t required on all school buses is that, statistically speaking, buses are relatively safe. They are large, tall, have flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors, reinforced sides, a bright color, and stop arms. They also have “compartmentalization” – the interior of the large bus provide occupant protection without the use of a seat belt. Some states are increasing requirements of seat belts on school buses and Washington has begun discussions.
The Multi-function school activity bus or MFSAB type vehicles will continue to be exempt from Washington’s child restraint law requirements as well. Those that do not have the traffic control devices are not allowed to be used for picking up children at bus stops for to and from school travel. They may be used for activity trips.
Vehicles providing shuttle services between parking, convention and hotel facilities and airport terminals are also exempt.
An exemption does not ensure the safest mode of protection when traveling in a motor vehicle.
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