If you’re finding the ultimate guide to car seat laws in the United States, here is the right place.
We create an interactive map of car seat laws for 50 US states so that you can have a quick look at the weight and height, and age requirements in the state where you live or plan to travel.
We also make a complete list that contains the car seat laws for 50 US states and also includes the government’s car seat laws statements for each state.
The car seat laws for traveling with kids are not exactly the same in any two states in the United States.
Even there might be some common laws and recommendations on the child restraint systems.
This makes it a bit confusing for parents and caregivers who are going to take children traveling across different states, or for families that have young toddlers and just move to a different state.
The car seat and booster seat laws in every state might be updated occasionally, so if your family has newborn babies, you need to check the latest rules and requirements even if you have understood the earlier car seat laws.
According to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), there are four car seat stages, with the first three stages that parents will need to use a car seat or a booster seat.
To make it simple, we list the car seat laws for US states into three categories based on the stage: rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster. Click the below icon to view all 50 US state car seat laws in that specific category.
If you want to know the car seat laws height and weight, and age rules for each state, we also compile a list of all 50 US states so that you can know if the searched state focus on height and weight requirement or on age requirement.
Car Seat Laws List for 50 US States
Hover over the state region to view a brief of the child car seat laws for the 50 states in the US.
*CRS = Child Restraint System, commonly refers to a child safety seat with 5 point harness. Sometimes, it may also include a booster if the state does not require it clearly in the car seat laws.
*RF = Rear Facing; FF = Forward Facing; yr = year.
Some states are clear on the requirements of each stage, but most do not. They typically just say something about the age and weight requirements.
US Car Seat Laws by State 
Car Seat Laws and Stages
Based on the guidelines of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrative (NHTSA) and interpreting the law of each state, we make the below table with four different car seat stages.
However, not all state car seat laws specify the age, weight, or height requirements following the NHTSA’s rules. If that state has a requirement on rear-facing car seat laws or forward-facing car seat laws, we’ll have an “RF” or “FF” in the displayed laws on the map.
We’ll try our best to explain the car seat laws in every state to help you better understand the rules to legally and safely ride your child.
You may also find the details in the list above to know the full details of car seat laws for each state. We include the government link on car seat laws so that you’ll know all the details from official statements.
Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws - Age, Height and Weight
According to the rules from the NHTSA, rear-facing is the first stage to ride an infant from birth. So, it’s important for parents, especially for new parents who have their first baby to know the regulations on child restraint devices in the rear-facing position.
Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws: Weight Rules
After checking the laws in 50 states, we just find that the common weight mentioned are 20 pounds, 30 pounds, and 40 pounds.
These three weight rules are typically the upper weight limit required for rear-facing.
Some states are strictly following the guidelines of NHTSA and require a high rear-facing requirement of 40 pounds. If your state requires a 40-lb rear-facing maximum weight, you probably need a convertible car seat with extended rear-facing, for example, the Illinois and Maine.
If you’re living or traveling in a state that requires riding the infants facing the rear up to 40 pounds, it’s better to use a car seat with a higher rear-facing limit, convertible, and all-in-one are two great car seat types you can consider.
Infant-only car seats feature a low rear-facing weight limit of around 30-35 pounds, which is friendly for those states that require a lower rear-facing weight limit.
Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws: Height Rules
Few US states mention the height requirement for rear-facing in local laws, only California and Illinois do.
Both states require children under 40 inches in height to ride facing the back. If so, you may need a convertible car seat rear-facing for tall babies.
Most states recommend keeping your child rear-facing until they exceed the height limit of the car seat.
Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws: Age Rules
Age requirement is the major leading rule in the rear-facing car seat laws of all US states. No surprise about this. NHTSA also suggests riding the child rear-facing until they are 2 years old.
However, not all states will adopt the guidelines from NHTSA. Some of the US states have a lower age requirement – one-year-old.
Infant-only car seats are also a great choice in these states that require one-year-old kids to travel rear-facing
Rear-Facing Car Seat Laws by State
Some states have age, height, and weight requirements for rear-facing. We’ll have their laws statement listed below.
FAQs on Rear-Facing for Infants and Toddlers
According to the suggestion from Consumer Reports, car seats installed in a rear-facing position will spread the crash force more evenly across the back of the car seat and the child’s body.
When facing the back, the car seat also limits the motion of the head, reducing the potential for a neck injury, and keeps the child more contained within the shell of the child restraint.
Convertible car seats generally come with a minimum weight requirement of 4-5 pounds.
It means newborn babies can ride in this type of car seat as long as they reach the lowest weight limit.
To ride a newborn baby safely home from the hospital, parents should always install the car seat in the vehicle by following the manufacturer’s instructions in the manual attached.
After researching and reviewing 50+ car seats, we found that Chicco KeyFit 30 is the best option for most parents who have a premature newborn baby.
It features a 4-pound minimum weight limit, along with extra inserts, making it friendly to ride a low birth baby.
Measure your child’s weight or height and make sure both requirements are within the limits designated by the car seat manufacturer.
A child has outgrown the rear-facing seat when either of the following happens:
- the top of their head is less than one inch from the top of the seat when buckled in.
- they’ve reached the rear-facing weight limit, which is typically 30 to 35 pounds for infant-only car seats and 40 to 50 pounds for convertible and all-in-one car seats
As long as your child is large enough for a convertible car seat, it’s time to switch them to a forward-facing seat with a 5-point harness.
You should always install and ride the child following the manufacturer’s instructions, no matter which type of forward-facing car seats you have chosen, convertible, harnessed booster, or all-in-one.
Forward-Facing Car Seat Laws: Age, Height, and Weight
After checking and updating the local laws for 50+ US states, we find it’s much harder to summarise the common rules on forward-facing weight, height, and car seat age.
The differences vary greatly. But we’ll try our best to quote some basic rules.
Forward-Facing Weight Rules
Typically, the forward-facing is the next step of rear-facing, and the minimum weight requirements are just stepping the rear-facing rules as well.
So, you’ll see the 20 pounds, 30 pounds, and 40 pounds in the forward-facing laws for child car seats too.
However, you should always know the saying in the laws.
Commonly, the rear-facing laws will include the words ‘less than’ before the weight requirement. That means the 20-30-40 weights are considered the real minimum weight limit for forward-facing.
There is also a maximum weight limit for forward-facing. 40-pound is mentioned most in the laws, only Maine requires a unique 55-pound in the forward-facing weight rule.
After reviewing 50+ child car seats, we can tell you that most forward-facing car seats, including convertible, booster with a harness, and all-one, are able to ride your child within the weight limit.
Forward-Facing Height Rules
Height is not a common factor in forward-facing rules, which only talk about the height limit of forward-facing car seats.
If so, you just need to follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions to ride your child until he or she reaches the upper weight limit.
Forward-Facing Age Rules
1-year-old and 4-year-old are two age requirements you’ll find in the forward-facing rules.
However, the laws in any state would like to say that ‘under 4 years old’, meaning that children aged 1 to 3 years should ride in a forward-facing car seat.
Forward-Facing Car Seat Laws by States
FAQs on Forward-Facing for Toddlers and Preschooler
Commonly, your baby can ride forward-facing as long he or she outgrows their rear-facing car seats.
99% of infant-only car seats are designed with an upper weight limit ranging from 30-35 pounds and an upper height limit of 32-inch.
If you choose this type of car seat for your baby, then you can switch to forward-facing around 12 months or 18 months old.
Convertible and all-in-one car seats generally have higher weight and height limits, between 40-50 pounds and 32-43 inches.
It means you can move your baby forward-facing at 2 years or older.
However, you should always purchase the right car seat in accordance with the local laws in your state.
According to the table of the law above, one-year-old and two-year-old are the most common age requirements for rear-facing. That means, your baby can turn to a forward-facing car seat after their first or second birthday.
A child has outgrown a forward-facing convertible seat when:
- they hit the weight limit (which, for most forward-facing car seats, is 65 pounds).
- the tops of their ears are at or above the top of the car seat’s shell or head restraint.
- The harness straps can’t be positioned at or above their shoulders.
Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat, it’s time to move them to the next car seat stage – booster.
The booster seats, no matter high back or backless, are much safer than seat belts for protection. They work well to uplift the child so that the seat belts can be placed in the right position across the little’s body.
Booster Seat Laws: Age, Height, and Weight
Booster Weight Rules
40-pound is a common weight requirement for booster seat laws in US states.
It’s also the minimum weight requirement designated by the car seat manufacturer.
The upper weight limits vary on car seat brands, types, and modes, but typically range between 100 to 120 pounds.
Booster Height Rules
The height requirement is important for booster seats. The 57-inch (or 4 feet 9 inches) is the most usual height rule you can find in the laws of most US states.
That’s why 95% or more child booster seats are manufactured with this upper height limit. Some even feature a higher height limit up to 63 inches.
Booster Age Rules
4-year-old and 8-year-old are two major age requirements for a child booster.
One is the minimum requirement and the other is the maximum requirement.
However, you’ll find the words ‘less than’ or ‘under’ or ‘younger than’ before 8 years of age.
Some states may only require children under 6 years of age to be secured in a child restraint system, but not mention a booster anyway.
Booster Car Seat Laws by States
FAQs on Belt-Positioning Booster for Children
According to the booster seat laws in most US states, children who are under 8 years old must ride in a booster seat.
Only several states say in the law that children under 8 years of age can ride in a seat belt. Nevada for 6 years of age to be secured in a child restraint system. And South Dakota allows a child who is at least 5 years of age or older to wear a safety seat belt like an adult.
Boosters are designed to raise the child so the vehicle seat belt fits their body properly, with the shoulder and lap belts positioned to provide optimum protection while minimizing potential harm.
It’s a common rule to secure a booster with the lap and shoulder belt system. However, some states also mention cases without a shoulder belt. If you are in the same situation, you should check the local laws and find if it’s allowed to install the booster with only a lap belt in the back seat.
Child in Seat Belts Laws in the United States
Seat Belt Weight Rules
Weight is not a leading requirement for seat belt rules. Only several states mention a weight requirement, for example, 60-pound for Arkansas and Connecticut, 65-pound for Alaska and Delaware,80-pound for Kansas, Maine, and Missouri.
Seat Belt Height Rules
The 57-inch is the most common height requirement in the laws. It’s the lowest limit allowed to be secured in a seat belt in the car.
Seat Belt Age Rules
8-year-olds are the deciding age factor in the laws. It’s the minimum age requirement mentioned in most state legislatures.
Child Seat Belt Laws in the US by State
FAQs on Seat Belt for Older Kids
California law allows for a child 8 years of age or older to use a seat belt. However, it is safer for your child to remain in a booster seat until they can complete the 5-Step Test:
The 5-Step Test:
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm, resting on the collarbone?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If your answers are ‘Yes’ to all the above five questions, it means your child is large enough to ride with a seat belt.
No, it’s not allowed to buckle two or more children in one seat belt. Proper installation with an appropriate tightness allows the seat belt for optimal protection.
Securing two children in one seat belt can’t get the best result.
No. The best practice is to put the shoulder belt across the center of the chest.
Car Seat Laws Front Seat
Car Seat Laws Common Phrases Explanation
To help you better understand the car seat and booster seat laws, we want you to know some common phrases and words and what they might mean.
This means that the car seat should be used completely following the instructions provided by the manufacturer and attached to the car seat package.
When you see the “proper use” words in your state’s car seat laws, you’d better properly install and use the car seat by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Sometimes, you’ll find the ‘appropriate’ or ‘properly’ words in a state’s laws, which usually means you can use the car seat for children who will fit well within the weight and height limits from the car seat’s label.
However, if your state law has the “proper use” phrases on a specific car seat type, like a booster seat with a minimum weight limit of 40 pounds, you can’t legally put a 35-pound baby in it.
Car seat laws are different in each state, but the approval process of car seats and booster seats is covered by the federal government.
Most state laws require that your kid’s car seat must be federally approved, meaning that the car seat has passed the testing and certification process that is conducted by the government.
Manufacturers usually do their own testing by following a set of federal standards before releasing a car seat on the market.
They self-certify that the car seat meets the standards, and then the federal government does spot checks to ensure compliance.
The “And” word generally means that the car seat should meet all the requirements if you find two or more requirements are joined by “and” on the state law.
For example, if the law says your child must be one-year-old and 20 pounds to use a forward-facing car seat, both requirements must be met.
The “Or” word is a bit different, it usually requires you to meet one of the requirements that are joined by “or”. Most state booster seat laws use this pattern.