Car Seat Guide: New Laws 2017
Car seats are an essential part of keeping your child safe. Countless children’s lives are saved annually by being properly installed in a carseat during a crash. Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that went into effect on January 1st, 2017. This law requires children be rear facing to a minimum of 2 years old:
It is recommended that they remain rear facing until as close to age 4 as possible! More and more studies are showing that rear facing is the safest place and position in the car. In fact, it is 5 times safer than forward facing.
In the case of an accident, a child's head and spine are better protected if the car seat is rear facing. One study shows that children ages two and under are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a collision if they face the back. I know kids might appear to be squished but most children are actually quite comfortable sitting criss-cross, or with their legs up the seat. For those parents/caregivers who are concerned about leg room, Graco has released the Extend2Fit, a new seat which has a 4-position extension panel that provides 5" of additional leg room.
Children who are 40 pounds or 40 inches are exempt from the law and can face forward, but while they may be exempt from the law, they are not exempt from the laws of physics. Rear facing is safer. Please take a moment to click the link below. This video is a good illustration about why rear facing is so important:
Toddlers who have outgrown the rear facing weight or height limit for their car seat should use a forward facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
The current California Law also requires a car seat or booster seat until your child is 8 years or 4 ft 9 inches. Height parameters make more sense than the previous weight ones. For a child to safely transition into a booster, we look beyond the child's age/height/weight. There's another set of criteria to help determine if your child is ready to transition to a booster. There is a '4 Step Test', in which all criteria should be met; don’t dismiss the importance of Step 4!
1. Child is an absolute minimum of 40 lbs
2. Minimum of 4 yrs old
3. There is a lap & shoulder belt in child's seating position
4. The Child can be trusted to sit properly for the entire trip, every trip - even while asleep. This means no slouching (back straight up against seat), no leaning to either side, no playing with the belt, etc... even unsupervised.
Developmentally, most children don't meet all of these steps until somewhere between 5-7 years old, and generally closer to 6 or 7 than 5. A lot of this has to do not only with physical maturity, but emotional maturity.
This is one of those times in your parenting life where your child NOT graduating is actually a good thing. The longer your child is harnessed, the safer and more protected they'll be.Your child needs to be tall enough so that the seat belt goes across the chest, not across the neck. The purpose of a booster is to properly position a child in the adult-intended seat belt. What you’re looking for is proper belt fit across the lap and shoulders - the belt should be low and tight on the hip bones (not on the belly), and should be hitting the shoulder bone, not the child’s neck.
Be aware that most newer car and car seat models use the LATCH system ( Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). The Latch system attaches the car seat to the vehicle through anchor points that are installed in the car and connectors on the car seat. This is supposed to make the installation easier as well as eliminating potential errors that can result from installing a car seat with a seat belt. The LATCH system has a 65 pound weight limit. What many parents are surprised to find out is that this limit includes the weight of your child as well as the weight of the car seat (some can weigh up to 25 pounds!).
When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use Lap and Shoulder Seat Belts for optimal protection. To determine if your child is ready to sit unassisted, they must pass 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?
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 you’ve answered NO to any of the above, your child should remain safely boostered!
If your children complain about this rule, show them photos of race car drivers all bucked up in their restraint system. Be matter of fact about it and explain that there is no compromise for safety (there is also a mighty large fine if you are caught breaking this law.)
All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection. Airbags can actually be quite dangerous to a child so it is worth making sure that this isn't an issue with your car and the placement of your child's safety seat.
Picking the right car seat
If you are looking to buy a new car seat, check out these helpful links:
If you are someone who doesn’t own a car and is popping the car seat in and out of car services, finding one of the cars that is easier to install becomes even more important
Making sure it is installed correctly
The AAA states that 75% of car seats are installed or used improperly. As your child grows, there are services offered here in the San Francisco Bay Area that will check out your car seat or booster seat and make sure it properly installed. Have the infant car seat checked before the baby is born and then again with each transition to a larger seat.
Below are some local resources for making sure that not only is your car seat properly installed but that it is the right fit for your child's size and age. They can make sure that all the straps are where they need to be and that you pass the "pinch test", making sure that the seat's harness is tight enough
To be super safe, consider having the car seat fit and installation checked every 6 months. Fortunately there are lots of places to help.
AAA 553-7208 2300 16th St suite 280
The contact person is Ingrid. Appointments need to be made ahead of time. You do not need to be a AAA member to take advantage of this free service. If you want to take the trek up to Mill Valley, the AAA office there is at 750 Redwood highway. The technicians there are Fernando 415-380-6015 and Kyelynn 415-380-6032. Please make appointments in advance.
CHP (California Highway Patrol) 415-557-1094
This is very popular and is by appointment only. Please make an appointment as far in advance as possible. The current wait when I called to update this post was pretty short, but it varies and sometimes can be longer than a month.
They try to have an officer at all of the local police stations who is trained to do the car seat safety inspections. Call the number above for more info.
The Colma police department will do a car seat inspection for free(650-997-8321). By appointment only.
Willing to pay to have someone come to you?
The following links can you assist you in finding the right car seat:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website has a place to click to find updated local car seat inspection stations for those of you who are not in the Bay Area:
Car safety doesn't end with being safely buckled. I know it is hard to avoid distraction with a baby fussing in the back seat. Consider getting one of the specially made mirrors so that you can keep on eye on your rear facing baby. Make certain that they can't reach anything that is a choking hazard.
Don't let them hold the keys; they can lock you out!!
If your child is asleep in the car seat and you have arrived at your destination, leaving them snooze for a few minutes is fine, but keep them tightly buckled. Having a baby in a car seat without being tightly strapped in not safe. The loose straps can be a safety hazard.
WINTER CAR SEAT TIP: The straps need to be tight up against your baby; puffy coats or blankets need to be OVER the straps!
Never leave your child unattended in a vehicle. Children can die from prolonged exposure to excessive temperatures in a hot car.
Most accidents happen within a few miles of your house. Even a short trip down the block requires the full "buckle up". Hey parents, model good behavior and always make sure you fasten your own seat-belt!
Did you know that car seats expire? Most of them have a 6-9 year life span. This date can usually be found underneath or behind the seat. Buckles and straps can wear out. Prolonged exposure to sunshine can weaken the plastic. Also, the technology is always changing and this ensures that nothing gets too out of date. Save the instructions/registration in a safe place. Make sure you register your car seat. If there is ever a recall this will ensure that you are notified.
If you have an old car seat that you want to get rid of, Alioto's Garage has been offering a Recycled Car Seat Program. Anyone, not just regular customers, can drop a car seat off at any Alioto's location during regular business hours. They will recycle the usable parts and keep it out of our landfill:
Let me close by confessing that I am NOT a car seat expert. The seats that my children grew up with were much simpler (but not nearly as safe). When I see new parents struggling with all the straps and trying to figure things out, I am often as clueless as they are.
Here is the takeaway message. This is an essential skill that you need to learn in order to keep your baby safe. Find an expert to help you master this and make sure that you are using the car seat restraint properly.