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What Are the Different Car Seat Guidelines?

By Valerie Clark
Updated May 23, 2024
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Car seat guidelines are continually reviewed and revised based on the results of ongoing research to improve the safety of children when traveling in moving vehicles. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an updated set of car seat guidelines in April 2011. It advised that children under 2 years old should ride in a rear-facing car seat and older children should ride in a booster seat until they are 4 foot 9 inches tall (about 1.45 meters) and at least 8 years old. Additionally, kids 12 years old and younger should not be permitted to ride in the front seat of a vehicle. Car seat guidelines issued by the AAP are not always the same as child restraint laws set forth by individual states in the United States.

Safe car seat use has been shown to be effective in preventing child deaths in motor vehicle accidents. Research has shown that the risk of injury and fatality is higher for unrestrained children than for those who are appropriately restrained when they are involved in a crash. Appropriate use of child restraint devices also is important in reducing the risk of injury. It is essential to follow appropriate car seat guidelines and install and use car seats correctly to ensure the safety of children. Certified inspectors, often found at local fire and police stations, can ensure the proper and safe installation of car seats.

Manufacturers of car seats specify height and weight requirements, and these measurements should be used as supplemental guidelines in conjunction with applicable laws. There are different types of car seats for different ages and sizes. The most important guideline is to always select a size- and age-appropriate car seat. Parents are urged to read the car seat manual for this information.

All 50 states in the U.S. have laws and regulations pertaining to child restraint devices, but not all states have laws specifically pertaining to booster seats and seat belt use. Approved child restraint devices are required for all children traveling in a vehicle in the U.S. The age at which children are allowed to wear an adult seat belt can differ by state. Car seat guidelines also may vary from one state to another. These variations mean it is important to check with the appropriate state regulatory office for any unique laws concerning car seat safety in addition to following the manufacturer’s specifications and AAP recommendations.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Wisedly33 — On Dec 07, 2014

@Scrbblchick -- Not sure I agree with you entirely about booster seats, although I think 12 years old is a little much. I've seen some 12-year-old boys who were taller than I am and weighed 170 pounds! I know there is also a weight regulation.

I will say some things have to be left to a parent's discretion. There are a lot of 8 year olds who are still small enough to probably need a booster seat, but again, this should probably be left up to the parents.

But I do agree about can't put kids in bubble wrap. They're going to get skinned knees and broken bones, and they're going to do stupid things. Sometimes, it has to be a learning experience.

By Scrbblchick — On Dec 06, 2014

Obviously, you need a car seat for babies and toddlers. No question. But seriously -- if it were so dangerous for bigger kids (say age 8 and up) to ride in the front seat and not to ride in booster seats, how in the world did so many kids make it to adulthood before these regulations were passed?

It makes me very glad my daughter was born before all the booster seat nonsense was passed. Car seats are expensive enough. I don't know how in the world we could have afforded the "approved" booster seats, too! You can't put kids in bubble wrap their whole lives. You keep them as safe as you can, but you can't predict everything.

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