Car Seat Safety

Car Seat Guidelines for Babies, Children & Adolescents

Guidelines for car seat use change based on your child’s age, weight, and height. Different manufacturers have different weight restrictions for a given car seat; this may factor into your decision about which car seat to select. Be sure to know at what weight and/or height the car seat you own is no longer safe for you child.

  • Birth to 12 months old: Always use a rear-facing car seat in back seat.
  • 1-3 years old: Rear-facing car seat in back seat is safest. Use as long as your child is under the height and weight limits allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
  • 4-7 years old: Forward-facing 5-point harness car seat until your child exceeds the height or weight limits allowed by the car seat manufacturer. You can then switch to high-back booster.
  • 8-12 years old: Back seat only. May still need a backless booster seat. May be out of booster seat if safety belt properly crosses the shoulder (not the neck), lap belt crosses the upper thighs/hips (not the belly). Generally need to be about 4’9″ (57″) to be out of a booster seat. Back seat recommendation is primarily related to height, as shorter individuals may be susceptible to injury from deployed airbags.
  • 13-17 years old: May sit in front or back seat but must be restrained properly with a safety belt.

The following websites may be helpful in determining the safest method for your child:

Virginia Department of Health Child Passenger Safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Find the Right Car Seat

American Academy of Pediatrics Car Seats Information for Families

American Academy of Pediatrics Car Seat Checkup

American Academy of Pediatrics On the Go Safety Resource Library

Kids and Car Safety

Federal Aviation Administration Flying with Children page (advice for use of car seats on planes)

Frequently Asked Questions

When can I turn my child’s car seat around? No sooner than their 2nd birthday. Many newer convertible car seat models can accommodate rear-facing alignment beyond 2 years old, however. We recommend following manufacturer recommendations for height and weight limits.

My toddler is tall and her legs are scrunched up in a rear-facing car seat. Wouldn’t it be better to turn her around? The need to have children rear facing is based on the strength (or lack thereof) of their necks. The most recent safety studies show that front facing infants and toddlers are at high risk for neck injuries. Because most bad collisions are rear-enders, having your toddler facing the rear of the car will provide extra support behind the neck. Again this is based on age not weight or height. Children’s legs are much more flexible than the neck and less likely to sustain injuries in the event of a rear-end collision.

Virginia’s Child Restraint Device Laws

  • Child restraint devices are required until the 8th birthday (no height or weight requirement with this law).
  • Rear-facing car seats must be in the backseat of the vehicle. If in a truck or other vehicle without a back seat, car seats may be in the front seat if there is no passenger seat airbag, or if that airbag has been deactivated.
  • 8-17 year old children/adolescents must be belted correctly.
  • Violations are a primary offense (do not need to be pulled over for any other reason). First offense is $50, subsequent offenses could be up to $500.
  • Violations can be incurred by anyone transporting a child in a vehicle manufactured in 1968 or later – parents, grandparents, babysitters, etc. The only exemptions are for taxicabs, school buses, executive sedans and limousines, though it is still recommended children be properly restrained in these vehicles too!

Virginia’s Child Passenger Safety Laws

Where to Get Help with Car Seat Installation

There are locations (mostly fire and/or police stations) that will help install your car seat or ensure that your installation is correct. To find a location near you, click on the link below.

Car Seat Installation Locations (scroll to bottom of page linked for map of locations)

or download the list here

NOTE: You need to have your car seat properly installed prior to taking your newborn home from the hospital. Hospital staff are not trained in properly installing car seats, and will not help you with this. Please plan ahead and, at a minimum, have the car seat base installed once you reach 36 weeks.

***Updated 10/4/2023