California Car Seat Laws (2024)

Children under 2 need to be in a rear-facing car seat unless they weigh 40 or more pounds. Children under 8 must be in a car seat or booster seat in the back.
Written by Jaya Anandjit
Edited by R.E. Fulton
The car seat law in
follows a 4-40-40 rule, meaning that children under the age of two must be placed in a rear-facing car seat unless they weigh more than 40 pounds or are taller than 40 inches. 
  • Child safety seats are designed to reduce the risk of fatal injuries for children.
  • All children under two years old must ride in a rear-facing seat.
  • Booster seats are required for children under eight years old, between 40 to 80 pounds, and under 40” or 4’9”.

Car seats are required in California for children under two years old

Effective January 1, 2017, California car seat law
(California Vehicle Code Section 27360)
mandates that all children under two years old must ride in a rear-facing seat. This only applies to children who weigh less than 40 pounds or are shorter than 40 inches (4’9”). 
California’s mandatory seat belt laws
also stipulate that children under eight years old have to be safely secured in either a car seat or booster seat in the rear seat of the vehicle. These laws are designed to uphold child passenger safety.
To figure out when your child is ready to graduate to a new type of car seat, review this table that breaks down how to secure your child before you start driving:
Seat type
Age limit
Child weight and/or height
Infant seat (rear-facing)
Newborn to two years
40 pounds or more
Toddler seat (forward-facing)
Two years or until they outgrow seat
40 and 65 pounds
Booster seat
Between 40 and 80 pounds/under 4’9’’ tall
Seat belt
165 pounds
To find the best fit, it’s usually recommended to tailor your child’s car seats to their height and weight rather than to your child’s age. Furthermore, booster seat manufacturers agree that it’s best if children continue sitting in their booster seats until they can be comfortably secured by adult-sized seatbelts. 
Key Takeaway The California Highway Patrol (CHP) affirms that children under two years old must ride in a rear-facing seat (if less than 40 pounds or under 40 inches tall). Children under eight years old must be safely secured in either a car seat or booster seat. 

When can a child ride with no car seat in California?

Under California state law, your child can move from a car seat to a booster seat once they meet the following criteria:
  • Between four to eight years old
  • Between 40 to 80 pounds
  • Over 40” or 4 '9"
You can retire your child’s booster seat and secure them with a safety belt alone if they exceed these limits:
  • Over eight years old 
  • Over 40” or 4’9”
  • The lap belt touches their upper thighs
  • The shoulder belt crosses the center of their chest
  • They can sit all the way back on the seat
  • Their knees bend at the edge of the seat
Keep in mind: If your child reaches eight to twelve years of age but they are below 4’9” and under 80 pounds, you should continue to use a booster seat until they exceed the legal height limit and weight limit and an adult seat belt fits them.

Do I need to use a car seat in a taxi or rideshare in California?

California car seat and booster seat laws apply in taxis and rideshare vehicles. Parents are required to bring a child restraint system, such as a convertible car seat, into taxis or rideshare vehicles if they are traveling with a child who legally needs one or the other. 
If your taxi or rideshare vehicle is involved in an accident while you and your child are present in the car, and you do not have your child secured in a car seat or booster seat, the responsibility will fall on you. If you are not present and your child is riding alone without the appropriate seat, the responsibility will fall on the taxi or rideshare driver.

What are the penalties for breaking the car seat or booster seat laws in California

Breaking California’s booster seat or child restraint laws can result in a $100 fine for the first offense. The second and subsequent violations can result in a $250 fine. If you do not pay your fine and any court fees, you could lose your driver’s license. 
These are only the basic fines. You’ll also be responsible for paying any penalty assessments assigned by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). 

Can breaking the car seat law impact my driving record?

Yes, in addition to receiving a costly ticket, the state will
add one point to your driving record
If your record accumulates too many points, it’s an indication that you are a risky driver—and this can increase your car insurance premium.

How breaking booster seat laws can impact insurance in California

A booster seat violation will be noted by your insurance company and you may have to pay more every month. If your violation puts points on your
driving record
, your rates will most likely be increased by your
car insurance
If your driving record already has blemishes, receiving additional violations or points can drive up your rates even more. 

How to safely install a car seat or booster seat

Start by figuring out the dimensions for your child’s safety and buy a seat accordingly. Of course, the most important thing is to make sure you safely install the booster or car seat before you drive with your child. 
California parents can consult with a certified child passenger safety technician to ensure their child passenger restraint system is correctly installed. Your local CHP office or health department can direct you to a local fitting station.
Remember, most stores where you buy the car seat will not install it for liability purposes. That said, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers detailed instructions to help you safely
install a child car seat
. You can
find an inspection station
close to your home through the NHTSA to ensure car seat safety.
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California law states that children who are over eight years old and taller than 4’9” can sit in the front seat of a car with a seat belt. It is generally recommended that children remain in the back seat until they are over the age of 12. 
If a child under 18 years old is present in your vehicle, you are prohibited from smoking while the vehicle is parked or moving. 
You can stop using a booster seat for your child if they meet both of the following criteria:
  • The child is over eight years old
  • The child is over 4’9”
Rear-facing car seats are designed to support children under the age of two years old by reducing the risk of injuries to their back, neck, and head. Forward-facing car seats are designed for children over the age of two who have outgrown their rear-facing car seats.
As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, if your child is over the age of two but they still fit into their rear-facing infant car seat, you should continue using it until they’ve outgrown it. In the event of a car accident, rear-facing car seats provide more protection for your child than a forward-facing seat with a five-point harness. 
Car seats and booster seats are typically installed in the back or middle seats of a car, but there are some exemptions. 
Under California’s child car seat laws, you can install your child’s car seat or booster seat in the front passenger seat of your car under the following conditions:
  • The vehicle does not have rear seats
  • The vehicle’s rear sets are side-facing jump seats or rear-facing seats
  • The rear seats are occupied by other children who require car seats or booster seats
  • The child has a medical condition that prevents them from sitting in the rear seat
  • The car is not designed to fit a car seat or booster seat in the rear seats
Keep in mind: You cannot install rear-facing car seats in the front seat of a vehicle that is equipped with active passenger airbags.
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