Buckle Up! Texas State Law on Child Passenger Safety

car seatDid you know that Safety Seat Belt violations are a primary offense in Texas? That means that an officer doesn’t need to have another reason to pull you over. Officers may then arrest or issue a citation/notice to appear before a judge for a violation.

I wonder if all moms (and dads) know what the Texas laws are regarding children when they are riding in the car? That they could even be arrested if they or their child are not in a seat belt. Here’s a look at the current laws in Texas regarding child passenger safety.

First, let me remind you that everyone, regardless of age, is required to be wearing a seat belt.

All children younger than 8 years old, unless taller than 4’9”, are required to be in the appropriate child safety seat system wherever they ride in a passenger vehicle. In other words, once the child is 8 years old, regardless of their height or weight, it is legal for them to just have the adult safety belt on. However, it is recommended that it is safest for any child under 4’9” to be in a booster seat.

Notice the law says “passenger vehicle” – what does that include? A “passenger vehicle” is a passenger car, sport utility vehicle, truck, light truck, truck tractor or a passenger van designed to transport 15 or fewer occupants, including the driver. (Buses are not included in this definition)

An infant or child passenger restraint system that meets the federal standards for crash-tested restraint systems as set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Examples: rear-facing only safety seat, convertible safety seat, forward-facing only safety seat, high-back booster seat, backless booster seat, safety vest/harness.

Most hospitals in Texas will not let you leave with your newborn without a proper car seat.  You want to keep your baby in a rear-facing seatas long as possible – to the upper weight limits of the harness. But you should never place an infant forward-facing before their first birthday and 20-22 pounds.

Next is the Forward-Facing Seat: Toddlers go forward-facing in a five-point harness until the upper limits of the harness, usually 40-65 pounds.  

Again, Texas Law requires all children under 8, unless taller than 4’9” to be in an appropriate Booster Seat. Not sure if it safe for your child to dump the booster seat? There is a simple 5-step test for determining proper fit of the adult safety belt. Buckle your child into a lap/shoulder belt and look for these things:

1. Does he/she sit all the way back against the seat?

2. Do his/her knees bend easily at the edge of the seat?

3. Does the shoulder belt cross over the center of the shoulder and chest?

4. Is the lap belt low, across the tops of the thighs?

5. Can he/she stay seated like this for the entire trip?

If you answered “no” to any of these, your child may still need a booster seat.  And you should want to do that, even if it’s a hassle. Why? Because studies have shown that in crashes where children are restrained by only an adult seat belt, they are more likely to suffer severe head, spinal cord and internal injuries.

Another question I hear a lot (mainly from eager children) is it legal for a child to ride in the front seat. I always told the kids the law said they had to be twelve, but actually there is no such law in Texas.  However, the law does require that all child safety seat systems must be used according to the owner’s manuals and installed according to manufacturer instructions.

ALL rear-facing seats are prohibited from being used on the front seat of the vehicle if there is a passenger air bag. The only way the rear-facing safety seat can be legally and properly installed on the front seat of a single-cab vehicle is to manually turn the air bag to the “off” position. Air bags can be extremely dangerous to small children.

I think its important that parents know the laws affecting their children’s safety. So buckle up!

From one Mom to another,

Jenny Wilson

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