Traffic

When does your child need to be buckled in, and how? Here’s what our state law says

What’s the law for children riding in cars in Washington State? When do they need to be in a car seat, booster seat or some other kind of restraint?
What’s the law for children riding in cars in Washington State? When do they need to be in a car seat, booster seat or some other kind of restraint? Thinkstock.com

Q: What’s the law in Washington State about how children need to be buckled in while riding in the car?

A: If you have children, babysit or otherwise spend a lot of time riding around with kids in your car, chances are you know the law here. For those of you who don’t, here’s a refresher.

Washington’s laws are somewhat less stringent than some other states.

According to AAA, Oregon and at least 15 other states require rear-facing child seats for very young children under a certain age or weight. In Washington, nothing in the law requires using rear-facing child seats for kids of any age.

But it’s recommended that you follow the child seat manufacturer’s guidelines for when and how to use car seats and child restraints, and many people use rear-facing child seats anyway.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death of children in the state, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission notes on its website.

This year, a bill that aimed to strengthen Washington’s law was brought forward, but failed to advance in the state Legislature.

It would have required children under 2 to use a rear-facing car seat, unless they exceed the manufacturer’s height and weight limits for the seat being used.

The proposal also would have required children who have outgrown a rear-facing seat to use a front-facing seat with a harness until age 4, or until they exceed the front-facing seat’s height and weight requirements.

Children between 4 and 10 would have been required to use a booster seat, until they are at least 4 feet 9.

Here’s a summary of Washington’s current law:

Kids must be in car seats and boosters until they are 8, unless the child is 4 feet 9 or taller, according to the Traffic Safety Commission’s website.

Children who are 8 or older or 4 feet 9 or taller either must be restrained with a seat belt properly adjusted and fastened, or by using a child-restraint system that fits correctly.

Children under 13 should ride in the back seat where it is practical to do so.

Washington also requires everyone 16 and older driving or riding in a vehicle to wear a seat belt in a “properly adjusted and securely fastened manner.”

(Thanks to my colleague Melissa Santos for her help with the legislative angle to this column.)

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud

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