Child Restraint Laws

California Vehicle Code requires children to be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) in the back seat of a vehicle, until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall.


4 Steps of Child Growth Safety


Step 1 - Rear Facing Infant/Newborn SeatsStep1Seat

  • Newborns and infants up to 20-35 pounds.
  • Babies must ride rear-facing in back seat until one year old AND at least 20 pounds.
  • Seat can never be forward facing.


Step 2 - Forward Facing Toddler SeatsStep2Toddler

  • Children over one year of age AND at least 20 pounds.
  • Face forward only.
  • Most can be converted to a belt positioning booster after child reaches 40 pounds.


Step 3 - Booster SeatsStep3Booster

  • For children under 8 years old AND under 4 feet 9 inches.
  • Must be used with lap and shoulder belts.
  • Lap belt fits low and tight across hips.
  • Shoulder belt crosses the collar bone and center of chest.


Step 4 - Seat BeltStep4Seatbelt

  • Age 8 - 12 years old OR 4 feet 9 inches or taller.
  • Must be in the back seat unless exempt.
  • NHTSA recommends all children 12 years and under should be in back seat.


The current California Law requires Law Enforcement to cite the parent/guardian for EACH child who is not properly and legally restrained by appropriate safety equipment.


Facts About Child Restraint Use

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for the age group 4 through 15.
  • Of the 459 occupant fatalities among children from birth through age 4 in 2002, nearly 40 percent were completely unrestrained.
  • In a 2004 study conducted for NHTSA, misuse of child restraints was approximately 73 percent.  The most common problems were loose harness straps securing the child to the seat and loose attachment of the child safety seat to the vehicle.


During 2006, a total of 1,537 children from birth through age 15 were killed in passenger vehicle crashes.  Approximately 50 percent of passenger vehicle occupants in this age group were unrestrained.  The breakdown by age group was:

    • 34 percent of children from birth through age 4 were unrestrained.
    • 40 percent of children ages 5 through 7 were unrestrained.
    • 52 percent of children ages 8 through 12 were unrestrained.

If 100 percent of motor vehicle occupants younger than age 5 had been protected by child safety seats, an estimated 518 lives (an additional 98 lives) could have been saved in 2006.

From 1975 through 2008, an estimated 8,959 lives were saved by the use of child restraints (child safety seats or adult belts).


For additional information regarding current child restraint laws, visit one of the web sites listed below.


External Links

California Law 

National Safe Kids Campaign
California Legislative Information
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

California Child Passenger Safety Contacts
SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.
California Office of Traffic Safety

California Child Passenger Safety Contacts
AAA Traffic Safety Department
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

This City of Stockton web page last reviewed on --- 5/22/2015