Child Restraint Laws

California Vehicle Code requires children to be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) in the back seat of a vehicle, until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall.


4 Steps of Child Growth Safety

Step 1 - Rear-Facing Infant/Newborn SeatsStep1Seat

  • Newborns and infants up to 20-35 pounds.
  • Babies must ride rear-facing in back seat until one year old AND at least 20 pounds.
  • Seat can never be forward facing.


Step 2 - Forward-Facing Toddler SeatsStep2Toddler

  • Children over one year of age AND at least 20 pounds.
  • Face forward only.
  • Most can be converted to belt-positioning booster after child reaches 40 pounds.


Step 3 - Booster SeatsStep3Booster

  • For children under 8 years old AND under 4 feet 9 inches.
  • Must be used with lap and shoulder belts.
  • Lap belt fits low and tight across hips.
  • Shoulder belt crosses the collarbone and center of chest.


Step 4 - Seat BeltStep4Seatbelt

  • Age 8 - 12 years old OR 4 feet 9 inches or taller.
  • Must be in the back seat unless exempt.
  • NHTSA recommends all children 12 years and under should be in back seat.


The current California Law requires Law Enforcement to cite the parent/guardian for EACH child who is not properly and legally restrained by appropriate safety equipment.


Facts About Child Restraint Use

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

  • Motor vehicle crashes are leading cause of death for the age group 4 through 15.
  • Of the 459 occupant fatalities of children from birth through age 4 in 2002, nearly 40% were completely unrestrained.
  • In a 2004 study conducted for NHTSA, 73% of child restraints were misused. Most common problems? Loose harness straps securing child to seat and loose attachment of child safety seat to vehicle.


During 2006, a total of 1,537 children from birth through age 15 were killed in passenger vehicle crashes. Approximately 50% of passenger vehicle occupants in this age group were unrestrained.  


If 100% of motor vehicle occupants younger than age 5 had been protected by child safety seats, an estimated 518 lives could have been saved in 2006.

From 1975 through 2008, an estimated 8,959 lives were saved by the use of child restraints (child safety seats or adult belts).


For additional information regarding current child restraint laws, visit one of the websites lbelow.


External Links

California Law 

National Safe Kids Campaign
California Legislative Information
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

California Child Passenger Safety Contacts
SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.
California Office of Traffic Safety

California Child Passenger Safety Contacts
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

This City of Stockton web page last reviewed on --- 2/27/2018