As of January 1, 2015 the State of Florida finally stepped up and tightened their car seat laws. For years Florida had the loosest car seat laws in the nation, but thankfully we are getting on track with the rest of the country. So what does that mean for you and your precious cargo?! Most families tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to car seats and seatbelt safety, so these changes may not even affect you. However is a very important topic and knowing the facts can dramatically change the outcome of an automobile accident.
Prior to January 1, 2015: Children through age 3 had to ride in a car seat or booster seat! – that was IT!
New laws – THANK GOD – for the safety of our children: Drivers are required to use a child restraint seat for children until the age of 6 years old. Even increasing the age to 6 years old does not seem like enough to protect our little backseat drivers.
So there is THE LAW and then there are THE GUIDELINES! (These two issues cause head scratching and heated conversations among parents as they try to determine how to properly and safely buckle their children in the car.) Personally – I chose to follow the more conservative guidelines, knowing that they are within the limits of the law – and then some.
CURRENT GUIDELINES (which are recommendations by AAA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration):
- Rear-facing seat: The recommendations have changed in recent years on this one, and unfortunately not everyone seems to be aware of the increased age. Babies should ride rear-facing until age 2, OR when they reach the limits of their car seats height OR weight limit, which is generally around 35lbs. (Previous guidelines were a year and 20lbs up until just a few years ago.)
- Forward-facing harness seat: Each federally approved child restraint harness seat has its own limits for height and weight. Children should be forward-facing in their seat until they reach the upper limits of the manufacturer’s recommendations for height OR weight. Most harness seats go up to 40-65lbs.
- Belt-positioning booster seat: Children who have outgrown their harness seat should be in a booster seat until they are taller than 4’9”, which is on average around 8-12 years old. Studies show that using a booster seat with a seatbelt vs. just a seatbelt reduces the risk of injury by 45%.
- Back seat: ALL children under 13 years of age should sit in the back seat.
- Lap & shoulder belts: The lap belt should lie flat across the hips and not up over the child’s stomach. The shoulder belt goes across the center of the shoulder and chest, without cutting across the neck. The child’s legs should bend at the edge of the seat. The lap and shoulder belts should fit the same way if the smaller child is in a booster seat.
As you can see, the law is broad and not very specific with regard to which seat and what age. However, the guidelines are what will protect your child. When in doubt, take your time switching your child down to the next seat. There is no harm done in having your child be safer for a longer period of time.
Do you let your children drive with other families? If so, do you inspect their car seats, or do you trust the families?