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Is There a General Car Seat Law?
Q: I was wondering if there is a general law on children in car seats? What are the ages and weights required for being in a car seat? When can they be in a seatbelt only?
A: Very important questions! Child passenger safety laws have been passed to protect our children. Unintentional injuries are the number one cause of death in children older than the age of one year, but can be prevented. With motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of these unintentional injuries, we all MUST be familiar with our state laws on this topic. As you have not shared the age(s) of your children, I will give a general overview.
It is a federal law that infants and children must ride buckled in car seats or seatbelts that have been properly installed and are used properly. Studies have demonstrated that parents often times do not position or use their car seats correctly. Many cars also have air bags for the front seat which are felt not to be safe when used with rear-facing car seats. Even a toddler in a forward facing convertible seat, a booster seat, or a lap/shoulder belt is at risk for air bag injuries. The safest place for children is in the back seat, farthest away from where a head-on crash occurs.
Massachusetts' Child Passenger Safety Law requires that infants and small children must ride in car seats until they are at least 5 years old and weigh over 40 pounds. Children who weigh more than 40 pounds, but are under 5 years old must ride in a booster seat. Once children are older than 5 years of age and are more than 40 pounds, they must wear a seatbelt that is properly adjusted. Do not place the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the back. This law applies to children riding in all types of privately owned vehicles.
For more specific information, contact your local police, state health department, or the summary of all state laws that can be found in the Occupant Protection Chart from the Safe Kids website.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.