Statistically, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among children in the United States, at approximately 20%. This statistic is greatly reduced when parents use an appropriate child safety car or booster seat to restrain a child within the vehicle when it is in motion.

New York law requires that every child under 8 years old must be restrained using an appropriate car or booster seat given the child’s weight, height, and age, while within a car. All infant seats, convertible child safety seats, and booster seats must meet federal safety standards for child restraint systems.

It is important for parents to know that a car’s internal seat buckling system is not sufficient to keep a child safe. It is also extremely important that restraint systems are properly installed and used within the car in order to keep a child safe.  

The CDC estimates that some 46% of child restraint systems are improperly used in the United States. To help with this issue, the State of New York has fitting stations that provide help with properly positioning and installing a restraint system.

New York law does not prohibit the use of child safety seats in the front passenger seat.  However, crash tests consistently show that the safest place for child restraint systems is away from all airbag systems which may deploy during an accident

Infant Seats

Infant seats are specifically used with infants who weigh 22 lbs. or less and who are less than 25 inches in length. These seats are used in the back seat of a vehicle and when used correctly, the infant faces the rear of the vehicle. Infant seats usually have a base that stays in the car, while the carrier can be removed. These carriers are easily snapped into matching stroller assemblies.

It is important that an infant seat is never faced forward or placed in the front passenger seat. Front passenger seats typically have side airbags that if deployed, cause grave risk to an infant. Facing the rear of the vehicle allows less room for the seat to travel if an impact is severe.

Convertible Child Safety Seats

Convertible child safety seats can be used both for infants and toddlers. When using a convertible seat for an infant, it must face the rear of the vehicle. Though not mandated by law, most manufacturers suggest that continuing to have the child face the rear as long as possible given height and weight requirements, provides additional safety for the child.

As the child moves from infancy to toddlerhood, the seat can be repositioned to face the front of the vehicle. It is important that the seat be placed in the rear seat of the vehicle, never in the front passenger seat. Convertible child safety seats are typically used until the child weighs approximately 40 lbs.

Booster Seats

Once a child outgrows a convertible child seat, a booster seat can be used. Booster seats are forward-facing and are used until a child is ready to use an adult restraint system. Generally, booster seats are used for children who weigh between 40 and 80 lbs., are generally between  4 and 8 years old, and are up to approximately 4 ‘ 9 “ in height. It is important that you never just use a lap belt alone with a booster seat.

Fines

The fine in New York for failure to use a child safety seat or for failure to adhere to general safety belt regulations is $50. However, the fine can be increased to $100 if a child under the age of 16 is improperly restrained for their height and weight within a car. In addition, an infraction will also mean the addition of three driver’s points on their license.

In addition, New York has recently passed laws that require all front-seat passengers to wear a seatbelt. The new laws went into effect In November 2020.

A Note About Built-In Car Seats

There are vehicles that contain built-in car seats. Be careful when looking at these that they follow all federal safety protocols. In addition, it is important that you read the owner’s manual and understand when and how to use these car seats appropriately. These car seats may not be appropriate for all ages.

Safety is everyone’s concern. The terrain of laws and regulations regarding child restraint systems in vehicles can be difficult to understand. In addition, these systems can be confusing to put in and operate properly. If you need help understanding the law, or if you have questions about faulty child safety seats, bring your questions and concerns to an attorney you trust.