In Texas, some type of restraint in the car is required of all children under 17 years old. These restraints change (and lessen) with age. If you have a child or drive children around, familiarize yourself with what the law says, what the child safety seat industry says, and what your individual child safety seat instructions say.
What Does Texas Law Say About Child Seats and Restraints?
Texas seat belt law is Texas Statutes Sec. 545.413. This law makes it an offense to be 15 or older and ride in a car without a seat belt. It is also an offense to allow someone 17 or younger to ride without a seat belt or a child passenger seat system. The law lists exceptions and empowers an educational campaign.
If I’m Caught Without a Seat Belt, or With a Child Not in a Safety Seat, Do I Go to Jail?
No. If you are 15 and up and are caught without a seat belt, you have committed a misdemeanor and will pay a fine of $25 to $50. If you are an adult, and people 17 and under are riding in your car without proper restraints or child seats, you have also committed a misdemeanor. You will pay a fine of between $100 and $200.
If an accident involving an improperly restrained child results in the child being ejected from the car or injured, the driver could face charges of child endangerment.
What Are the Best Recommendations To Meet the Requirements of Childseat Laws?
Child seat and restraint rules by age and size
- Less than 1 year and less than 20 lbs. – rear-facing infant car seat in the back seat
- Less than 1 year and less than 30 lbs. – rear-facing convertible car seat in the back seat
- At least 1 year and 20-40 lbs. – front-facing convertible car seat in the back seat
- At least 1 year and 30-40 lbs. – booster seat with a harness in the back seat
- Over 40 lbs. and less than 4’9” tall – booster seat without a harness in the back seat; use a lap/shoulder seat belt
- Over 4’9” tall – use lap/shoulder seat belt
- Under 13 – always ride in the back seat
Children should stay in car seats as long as they can, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Can I Get Help To Hook Up This Booster Seat?
If you are uncertain if you hooked up your seat or booster correctly, you can contact the Texas Department of Transportation. They can look it over for you and make sure everything is safe. If you think online help and guides will be enough for you, check out the Ultimate Car Seat Guide from Safe Kids Worldwide. Also, check your vehicle owner’s manual. It may contain specific directions not given elsewhere.
How Can I Tell If an Adult Seat Belt Fits My Older Child?
- Does the child sit with their back against the back of the seat?
- Do their knees bend over the front of the seat?
- Does the shoulder belt go across their shoulder and chest, and not their neck?
- Does the lap belt sit low on the tops of the thighs, and not the waist?
- Can they stay like that for an entire trip?
If you answer “no” to any of these, the child still needs a booster seat and a seat belt.
How Do I Tell If the Manufacturer Has Recalled My Child’s Safety Seat?
The U.S. Department of Transportation keeps a website that lists all the recalls that affect cars and driving. The National Child Passenger Safety Certification keeps a list of safety seat recalls. Register your seat with the manufacturer. This way, they can contact you as soon as a recall is in place.
Do Car Seats Expire?
Yes. Most will have the expiration date stamped on the side of the seat. If it isn’t there, assume it expires six years from the date of manufacture. Car seats do not have a long shelf life. Parts wear out and become less effective. Plus, the industry is always innovating and coming up with better seats. Also, if your child’s safety seat has been involved in a crash, replace it. It may use up its safety features because of the crash.
What Are Common Problems When Installing Child Safety Seats?
Not installing them tight enough. When installing, press down on the seat with one hand while you use the other hand to tighten the straps and belts.
Buying a used seat. Never buy a used seat, even if it’s in its date range. That seat may have been in a crash and you would never know. The exception to this is for very close friends or family — close enough that you would know about any crashes in which they may have been involved.
My Child Was in a Car Seat. What if They Still Got Injured in a Crash?
Injuries can still happen, even if you strap in and seat your child perfectly. Children who are still growing can experience injuries differently. Take your child to the emergency room if the crash or accident has injured them and let the doctors decide.
What If the Car Has No Back Seat?
If you are driving a truck or a two-seater sports car, the best thing to do is to have the child transported in a different vehicle, one with a back seat. If that is not an option, be certain to turn the airbag off in the front seat. Under no circumstances should you put a backward-facing infant seat in the front if the airbag is not turned off or removed. Make certain the seat’s maker designed the seat to work in a front seat. If not, do not use it.
Houston Police. “Child Car Safety Seats”. https://www.houstontx.gov/police/pdfs/child_car_safety_seats.pdf
National Child Passenger Safety Certification. https://cert.safekids.org/
Safe Kids Worldwide. “Ultimate Car Seat Guide. https://ucsg.safekids.org/
Texas Department of Public Safety. “Child Passenger Safety and Safety Belt Frequently Asked Questions”. https://www.dps.texas.gov/sites/default/files/documents/director_staff/public_information/childpasssafetyfaqs.pdf
Texas Department of Transportation. (2023). “Save Me With A Seat”. https://www.savemewithaseat.org/
Texas Statutes Sec. 545.413. https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/TN/htm/TN.545.htm#545.413
U.S. Department of Transportation. https://www.nhtsa.gov/