California car seat laws

California Car Seat Laws – Update & Simplified

This article on California Car Seat Laws is written with references from the California Legislative Information (direct links are included to the sections of the statutes below) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (state laws section) websites.

It is simplified in bullet points to highlight applicable sections. For more details or full references, do check the links provided.

Child Car Seat Laws in California

California car seat laws - Flag of California

Car Seat Law in California (CA Vehicle Code Statutes 27315 and 27360)

What does the child restraint law in California say?

  1. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children under 8 must be properly secured in an appropriate child restraint system installed in the back seat.
  2. An infant or toddler under 2 years of age weighing under 40 lbs. or is less than 40 inches in height must be properly secured in a rear-facing child restraint system and must meet the manufacturer’s instruction on height and weight requirements for the restraint system used.
  3. School-aged children and adolescents between 8-16 years must be properly secured in an appropriate child restraint system or safety belt as the case may be.
  4. A fine of $100 shall apply for violating California’s child restraint system law. A second-time offender shall pay a fine of $250.

More on The Law

  • When a child is born in a hospital in California, or any child under 8 years of age is released to the parents or guardian, the public or private hospital, clinic, or birthing center must provide information and direction on how to access platforms on the internet, or other contact means on where they can obtain further information and assistance on requirements for child passenger restraint systems, installation guides, and inspection directions.

    The contact information includes;

(1) Call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK or visit to find a nearby location.

(2) The telephone number of the local office of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.

(3) The Internet Web site for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Child Safety Seat Inspection Station Locator.

(4) The Internet Web site for the State Department of Public Health’s child passenger restraint system safety inspection locator.

California Legislative Information

California Rear Facing Law

The California rear-facing law explicitly mentions “rear-facing child passenger restraint system” as a type of restraint system that must be used in a car.

Therefore, you must ensure you use this type of car seat for your baby under 2 years of age or less than 40 lbs.

This is also in line with the American Academy of Paediatrics recommendation of using a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible, up to 2 years of age to an upper limit of 4 years depending on the weight and height of the baby.

Car Seat Laws in California Forward Facing

The California car seat laws do not explicitly mention the forward-facing child seat

However, a forward-facing car seat with a harness is the type of car seat you should be using ideally for toddlers and preschoolers (age 4-8 years).

This type of car seat is recommended for children who have outgrown the limit for the rear-facing car seat type, and that is weight and height.

California Booster Seat Law

California car seat laws do not also mention a booster seat as a type of child restraint system to be used.

However, a belt-positioning booster seat is recommended for school-aged children (8-12 years old).

When a child exceeds the limit for the forward-facing car seat as instructed by the car seat manufacturer, the next type of car seat to use will be the booster seat.

Nonetheless, where the child car seat laws in California do not mention about the booster seat, do make sure to use the vehicle car seat belt and fasten your child properly.

California Seat Belt Law

What does the law say?

  1. A child weighing more than 40 lbs. should ride in the back seat with the lap and shoulder safety belts fastened. Where the combination of the lap and safety belts is not supported in the back seat, only the lap safety belt can be used.
  2. A child under 8 years of age and is 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches) in height or taller can be restrained by a safety belt properly fastened instead of a child restraint system.
  3. All passengers in the car as well who are 16 years old and older must be restrained by a safety.

Other California Car Seat Laws You Should Know

Other Passengers in A Car

All other occupants of the car should make use of a seat belt.

California Front Seat Law – Can A Child Sit in The Front Seat?

You should note that children under 13 years of age must ride in the back seat and with a seat belt or the appropriate child restraint system.

The exceptions to this law in California are;

  1. If there is no back seat in the car. This will apply to having a car seat in a single cab truck.
  2. The back seats are side-facing jump seats.
  3. The child restraint system cannot be installed properly in the back seat
  4. Children occupy all the space in the back seat under 7 years of age.
  5. A medical condition that requires the child not to ride in the back seat. This must be proven in a court, however.
  6. If the front passenger seat airbag is deactivated.
    • “a child in a rear-facing child restraint system must not ride in the front passenger seat if the airbag is active.”
      • That means, if you are to install a rear-facing car seat in the passenger seat, you must ensure the airbag is deactivated. This is because the pressure from an inflated airbag during a car crash can cause severe injury to the back of the baby’s head and, in the worst case, cause death.

For Taxis in California

The child restraint system law does not apply to taxis in California.

  • The child restraint system for car seat and seat belt use does not apply to a driver if the parent or legal guardian of the child is a passenger in the motor vehicle.

Therefore, it is your responsibility as a parent or a caregiver to ensure you use a safety seat for your child and install it correctly; and also use a seat belt for a child of the age.

Because of how bulky carrying a car seat with the base (often it is fixed in a car, and the safety seat can be detached anytime and installed in another car using the seat belt), you may need to learn how to install a car seat without base.

This will come in handy when you have to board a taxi, cab, or Uber.

For Car Rentals in California

A car rental agency in California is required to inform their customers by posting a notice that can be easily seen by the public, informing them that;


California Legislative Information

Such car rental agencies must also have child restraints systems available that can be rented out to adults traveling with children under 8 years of 8, upon request.

Such restraints system rented out must also be in a great and safe condition, with no original parts missing and not older than 5 years (car seats expire after 6-10 years depending on the manufacturer and material of the car seat. Here is how to check if your car seat is expired.).

Can You Leave A Child in Your Car Alone in California?

As you know, California gets really hot. There is the “hot car law” that is practiced in California that prohibits leaving kids or animals unattended in a car.

By the law, children between 0-6 years of age must not be left in a car alone unless supervised by someone 12 years old or older.

A fine of $100 applies when you violate this law.

It is estimated that every year, between 30 and 50 babies die as a result of hypothermia and heat illness in the U. S. after being left in a car.

Of course, you don’t want such an experience.

Smoking Around Children in Cars – is it Illegal?

It is illegal to smoke a tobacco product around a minor in a vehicle, whether in motion or parked.

Violation of the law attracts a fine of not more than $100.

California Car Seat Laws – Car Seat Replacement After an Accident

California law requires insurance agencies to reimburse the cost if a car seat is damaged in an accident.

Therefore, there is insurance cover on car seats in California if you are involved in a car accident.

California Car Seat Laws – Getting Help

Here are go-to resources for more help – car seat inspection and more

A guide on car seat inspection – here

NHTSA car seat inspection directory – here

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