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Washington Car Seat Laws

September 27, 2022

Nothing is as important to parents as their child’s safety. Understanding Washington’s state laws regulating proper restraint inside a motor vehicle is essential, not only for legal reasons but to minimize the risk to children in the event of a car accident.

Car seats can be confusing for new parents, but by navigating the state’s child restraint laws successfully, parents not only avoid costly fines but also avoid potential disasters. Washington’s car seat laws follow the guidelines recommended by the Academy of Pediatrics for the best possible protection of children, which includes resisting rushing from one stage to the next, but instead keeping children in each recommended seat until they outgrow the weight limit.

Washington Car Seat Laws

Are You Using the Correct Seat for Your Child’s Weight and Size?

All infant and child car seats have clearly marked guidelines for weight and height right on the seats themselves. Parents should always check these guidelines to be certain their child is within the limit, and then continue using the seat until the child outgrows the limits in either height or weight. Rear-facing car seats provide the best protection for children and many rear-facing car seats can seat children safely up to 40-50 pounds.

Research from the CDC shows that properly using the appropriate car seat for a child’s size and age is a critical factor in reducing injuries and saving lives.

What are the Car Seat Laws in Washington for Infants, Toddlers, and Children?

National data shows that as few as 1 in 4 car seats in the U.S. are installed correctly. Car accident deaths are a leading cause of death in children ages 1-13. Motor vehicle accidents cause 1 out of every 4 accidental child deaths. In Seattle and throughout Washington, there are many resources to ensure correct car seat installation including special events and appointment-based inspections. Car seats must comply with DOT standards and parents must use them according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you purchased a defective car seat or a car seat caused your child an injury, you may be able to recover financial compensation through a product liability lawsuit.

Washington provides detailed guidelines for car seats and boosters. The following legal guidelines should help parents ensure they have the right type of car seat for their child’s age:

  • Infants must ride properly secured into rear-facing infant or convertible car seats appropriate for their weight from their first ride home from the hospital until at least age 2, or until they’ve outgrown the weight and height guidelines for an infant seat. Once able to sit up unsupported, babies can move into rear-facing toddler car seats. It’s best for children to remain rear-facing until they outgrow the maximum weight and height limits for their seat even beyond the legal requirement of age 2.
  • Once a child outgrows a rear-facing car seat, they should move into a forward-facing car seat and use it as long as possible based on the weight and height guidelines on the car seat.
    From age 2 to 4, legally a child must ride in a rear or forward-facing car seat with a harness. Rear-facing car seats are the best choice for safety.
  • Once a child is 4 years old or outgrows the maximum weight and height limits for rear or forward-facing car seats with a harness, they can move into a forward-facing booster seat. Booster seats work with a car’s existing lap and shoulder belts and lift the child high enough for proper placement of the belts across the lap and shoulder. Children 4 years old and older must ride in a booster seat until they reach 4’9” in height — typically between ages 8-12. For a seatbelt to fit properly, a child should be able to sit back in the seat with their feet reaching the floor and the lap belt across their hips rather than the stomach.

If a child climbs out of a booster seat regularly, or won’t sit upright with the straps in the proper position, parents should return the child to a harness-type car seat that’s appropriate for the child’s size.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the backseat is safest for children. Legally, children must ride in the backseat whenever possible until age 13.

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