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Rear-facing car seat laws by state

More than half of states require children to ride in a rear-facing car seat, typically until they are two or older, but many states don’t have any legal requirements at all about rear-facing car seats for children.

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Rachael BrennanRachael BrennanSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertRachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

Edited by

Anna SwartzAnna SwartzSenior Managing Editor & Auto Insurance ExpertAnna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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The laws regarding switching your child from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing car seat vary from state-to-state, but the law isn’t the only thing you should consider when making such a big decision.

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Generally speaking, experts say that children under two or who weigh less than 20 pounds should sit in a rear-facing car seat. But children who are older or heavier are still significantly safer in a rear-facing car seat, so the best choice is to keep them in that seat for as long as possible.

Key takeaways

  • Many states require a child to be two or older and weigh more than 20 pounds to be moved from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing car seat.

  • About half of U.S. states don’t require infants or young children to sit in rear-facing car seats.

  • Infants and children under two don’t have the same muscle development in their neck and upper body as older children, which makes it dangerous for them to ride in forward-facing car seats.

  • Car seat manufacturers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association recommend keeping your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible.

How long should your child be rear-facing in a car seat?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the best way to keep your child safe in an accident is to keep them in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the height and weight maximums set by the manufacturer. [1]

If your child is two or older and weighs more than 20 pounds, the odds are good they can legally be moved to a forward-facing or convertible seat, but the best way to know for sure when it is safe to switch your child to a forward-facing car seat is to follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions.

The chart below shows child safety seat laws by state for rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster seats:

State

Rear-facing child safety seat requirements

Forward-facing child safety seat requirements

Booster seat requirements

Adult belt requirements

Alabama

Children under 1 or less than 20 pounds

Children between 1 and 4 who are 20 to 40 pounds

Children between 5 and 6

Children over 6

Alaska

Children under 1 or less than 20 pounds

Children 1 to 3 and more than 20 pounds

Children 4 to 15 who are shorter than 57 inches or who weigh more than 20 but less than 65 pounds

Children 4 to 7 who are at least 57 inches or 65 pounds or more

Arizona

N/A

Children and infants under 4

Children 5 to 7 that are shorter than 57 inches

Children over 5 who are more than 57 inches tall

Arkansas

N/A

Children 5 and under and less than 60 pounds

N/A

6 through 14 years or 60 pounds or more

California

Children under 2 and less than 40 pounds and less than 40 inches

Children between 2 and 7 who are less than 57 inches

N/A

Children 8 and over who are at least 57 inches tall

Colorado

Children under 1 or less than 20 pounds

Children 1 to 3 years and 20 to 40 pounds

Children 4 to 7 years old

Children 8 or older

Connecticut

Children under 2 or less than 30 pounds

Children 2 to 4 or between 30 to 40 pounds

Children 5 to 7 years or between 40 to 60 pounds

Children 8 or older or more than 60 pounds

Delaware

N/A

Children 7 and younger and less than 66 pounds

N/A

Children 8 or older or more than 66 pounds

Florida

N/A

Children 5 and under

N/A

Children over 5

Georgia

N/A

Children 7 and younger and 57 inches or less

N/A

Children over 57 inches tall

Hawaii

Children under 2

Children between 2 and 3

Children 4 to 6 or under 4'9"

Children 7 or older who are taller than 4 feet and 9 inches

Idaho

N/A

Children 6 years and younger

N/A

Children over 6

Illinois

Children under 2 and less than 40 pounds

Children between 2 and 7 who weigh more than 40 pounds or 40 inches tall

N/A

Children over 8 who weigh more than 40 pounds

Indiana

N/A

Children under 7

N/A

Children over 7

Iowa

Children under 1 year and less than 20 pounds

1 through 5 years

N/A

Children 6 and older

Kansas

N/A

Children under 3

Children 4 to 7 who weigh less than 80 pounds

Children over 7 who weigh more than 80 pounds or taller than 57 inches

Kentucky

N/A

Children less than 40 inches tall

Children 7 and younger who are between 40 and 57 inches

Children over 57 inches tall

Louisiana

Children under 2 years and until reaching the weight or height limit as set by the manufacturer

Children at least 2 through 3 years and until reaching the weight or height limit as set by the manufacturer

Children at least 4 years through 8 years or until reaching the weight or height limit as set by the manufacturer

Children 9 and older or who are beyond the height and weight limit for the booster seat manufacturer

Maine

Children under 2

Children 2 years and older and less than 55 pounds

Children between 55 and 80 pounds who are shorter than 57 inches

Children over 80 pounds and more than 57 inches tall

Maryland

Children under 2

7 years and younger and less than 57 inches

N/A

Children 8 and over who are at least 57 inches tall

Massachusetts

N/A

7 years and younger and less than 57 inches

N/A

Children 8 and over who are at least 57 inches tall

Michigan

N/A

7 years and younger and less than 57 inches

N/A

Children 8 and over who are at least 57 inches tall

Minnesota

N/A

7 years and younger and less than 57 inches

N/A

Children 8 and over who are at least 57 inches tall

Mississippi

N/A

Children under 3

Children 4 to 6 and less than 57 inches and 65 pounds

Children over 6 who either weigh 65 pounds or more or who are 57 inches or taller

Missouri

N/A

Children under 3 who weigh less than 40 pounds

4 through 7 years who weigh at least 40 pounds but less than 80 pounds and who are four-foot-nine or shorter

Children 4 years and older who weigh 80 pounds or more or who are taller than four-foot-nine

Montana

N/A

Children 5 years and younger and less than 60 pounds

N/A

Children 6 and older who weigh more than 60 pounds

Nebraska

Children under 2

Children between 2 and 7

N/A

Children 8 and older

Nevada

Children under 2

Children 5 years and younger and less than 57 inches

N/A

Children 6 and older who are at least 57 inches tall

New Hampshire

N/A

Children 6 and under who are less than 57 inches tall

N/A

Children 7 and older who are at least 57 inches tall

New Jersey

Children under 2 and less than 30 pounds

Children 2 to 4 who are less than 40 pounds

Children 5 to 8 who are less than 80 pounds or less than 57 inches tall

Children 9 and older or who are more than 80 pounds or taller than 57 inches

New Mexico

Children under 1

Children 1 through 4 years or less than 40 pounds

Children 5 through 6 or less than 60 pounds

Children 7 or older who are taller than 4 feet and 9 inches

New York

Children under 2

Children between 2 and 4 who weigh less than 40 pounds

Children 4 through 7

Children 8 and older

North Carolina

N/A

Children 7 years and younger and less than 80 pounds

N/A

Children 8 and older who are 40 to 80 pounds in seats without shoulder belts, over 80 pounds with shoulder belts

North Dakota

N/A

Children 7 years and younger and less than 57 inches

N/A

Children 8 and older and at least 57 inches tall

Ohio

N/A

Children 3 years and younger or less than 40 pounds

Children 4 through 7 years who weigh 40 pounds or more and who are shorter than 57 inches

Children 8 and older

Oklahoma

Children under 2

Children 2 to 4

Children 4 to 7 who are less than 4'9"

Children 8 and older or taller than four-foot-nine

Oregon

Children under 2

Children 2 to 7 and under 40 pounds

Children over 40 pounds but less than 4'9"

Children 8 and older who are over four-foot-nine

Pennsylvania

Children under 2

Children 2 to 3

Children 4 to 7

Children 8 and older

Rhode Island

Children under 2 or less than 30 pounds

Children 2 to 7 who are under 80 pounds and less than 57 inches tall

N/A

Children more than 80 pounds and taller than 57 inches

South Carolina

Children under 2 who do not exceed the manufacturers suggested height/weight limit

Children under 4 who do not exceed the manufacturers suggested height/weight limit

Children 4 to 8 who are less than 57 inches tall

Children over 8 who are 57 inches tall or more

South Dakota

N/A

Children under 4 who weigh less than 40 pounds

N/A

Children over 5 or any child that weighs more than 40 pounds

Tennessee

Children under 1 and who weigh less than 20 pounds

Children between 1 and 3 who weigh more than 20 pounds

Children 4 through 8 who are less than four-foot-nine

Children 9 or older who are four-foot-nine or taller

Texas

N/A

Children under 7 who are less than 57 inches tall

N/A

Children 8 and older

Utah

N/A

Children under 7 who are less than 57 inches tall

N/A

Children 8 and older

Vermont

Children under 1 and who weigh less than 20 pounds

Children between 1 and 7 who weigh more than 20 pounds

N/A

Children 8 or older

Virginia

Children under 2

Children between 2 and 7

N/A

Children 8 or older

Washington

Children under 2

Children between 2 and 4

Children older than 4 and less than four-foot-ninel

Children taller than four-foot-nine

Washington D.C.

Children under 2 and less than 40 pounds

Children between 2 and 3

Children 4 to 7

Children 8 or older

West Virginia

N/A

Children under 7 who are less than four-foot-nine

N/A

Children 8 or older who are four-foot-nine

Wisconsin

Children under 1 and who weigh less than 20 pounds

Children between 1 and 3 who weigh between 20 and 40 pounds

Children 4 to 7 who weigh between 40 and 80 pounds

Children 8 or older who weigh more than 80 pounds or are more than 57 inches tall

Wyoming

N/A

Children under 8

N/A

Children over 8

Collapse table

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

When can a child switch to forward facing?

Children over two who weigh more than 20 pounds may be ready to be moved to a forward-facing car seat, but follow your car seat manufacturer’s instructions to keep your child as safe as possible in a car accident.

Although 22 states don’t require you to put infants in rear-facing car seats, that doesn’t mean it's safe to install a forward-facing car seat and call it a day. 

Infants and children under two don’t have the same muscle development in their neck and upper body as older children, which means even just hard braking could cause head or neck injuries for children under two who aren’t in rear-facing car seats, according to safety research.

Should my 5-year-old be in a car seat or booster?

Whether a child should be in a car seat or booster is usually determined by their height and weight. Your car seat or booster seat manufacturer should provide specific guidelines on when your child is ready to move from a car seat to a booster.

In many states, children who are five or older, weigh more than 40 pounds, and can sit up properly without the shoulder harness laying across their neck are legally able to make the transition to a booster seat. 

But state laws and manufacturer recommendations differ, so make sure you know what the right choice is for you and, if you’re in doubt, keep your child in their car seat.

Frequently asked questions

Can my 1-year-old face forward in his car seat?

Some states allow children under two to face forward in their car seats, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily safe. Most car seat manufacturers recommend infants and children under two sit in rear-facing car seats to protect their head and neck from injuries if you’re in a car accident.

What is the height limit for rear facing car seats?

To keep your child safe, there must be one inch of room between your child’s head and the top of a rear-facing car seat. If your child is tall enough that their head comes up to or above the top of their car seat, you either need to switch to a forward-facing car seat or purchase a larger rear-facing car seat.

What is the 2 hour car seat test?

Commonly used with premature babies or infants with certain medical conditions, the two hour car seat test is when you bring your baby’s car seat into the hospital and put them in it for a period of time (up to two hours) so doctors can monitor them and make sure they are breathing properly in the car seat before they leave the hospital.

Can a 6-month-old go on a road trip?

Yes, a 6-month-old can go on a road trip — if it's a short one. According to expert recommendations, infants should not stay in a car seat for more than two hours in a given 24 hour period, so plan accordingly, take long breaks, and keep your baby’s needs in mind while deciding where to go on your next vacation.

References

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editorial standards.
  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

    . "

    Car seats and booster seats

    ." Accessed December 01, 2022.

Author

Rachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

Editor

Anna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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