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Vehicular crashes continue to be the number one cause of accidental death for U.S. children less than 12 years old. In 1971 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted the first federal standard for child restraint systems, which are more commonly known as car seats. Since then, every state, and the District of Columbia has enacted its own set of laws expanding on the federal requirements. These laws aim to reduce the number of injuries and deaths of children in automobile accidents.
States use a variety of criteria to graduate children to less restrictive devices as they get older and grow. Many states use age either as the primary factor or as a supporting factor in making these distinctions. Other states reject age as a factor altogether and allow children to graduate into a different device (such as a seat belt) once the child reaches a certain height and/or weight, regardless of age. The questions below break down these requirements first by age, then by device and any height and weight requirements. Reading the primary and secondary questions together is essential for a complete understanding of these laws.
This page has been updated through January 31, 2014.
PHLR National Program Office research: Child Safety Seat Laws