What are the Car Seat Laws in Washington State?

It’s a good idea to review the current car seat and booster seat laws for Washington State. These laws are in place for good reason – car crashes are a top cause of death in children. Additionally, there are steps you can take to make car seat safety an even bigger priority.

Car Crashes are the Leading Cause of Death in Children

The leading cause of death in children ages 1-13 is car crashes. Consider these sobering statistics:

  • In 2017, 37% of kids killed in crashes were unrestrained.
  • As many as 59% of car seats are installed incorrectly.
  • Unrestrained drivers in crashes usually have children that are unrestrained.
  • Most accidents occur close to home – when it might be most tempting to relax on safety measures.

Clearly, car safety should be a priority for all parents of young children. The good news is that the risk of serious injury and death decreases when kids are properly restrained.

Current Car Seat Laws for Washington State

The current car seat and booster seat laws for Washington State (RCW 46.61.687) vary based on the age, height, and weight of the child. Before we get into the details, remember that laws can (and do) change as data collection and technology improves. For your reference, this post was last reviewed and updated in July 2022.

The table below describes the car seat laws for each child group.

Age or HeightCar Seat TypePosition
Under 2Rear-facing until child reaches the car seat manufacturer’s weight and height limit.Back seat, whenever practical
Between 2 and 4Can be in forward-facing car seat until child reaches the car seat manufacturer’s weight and height limit.Back seat, whenever practical
Over 4 and less than 4′ 9″ in heightChild booster seat until vehicle lap and shoulder belts fit properly. (This tends to happen between ages 8 and 12.)Back seat, whenever practical

There are a few additional parts to this law you should know, too:

  • Child seats must comply with US Department of Transportation standards. (In other words, be wary of older, used seats or DIY restraints.)
  • Child seats must be installed following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Wherever practical, kids under 13 should ride in the backseat.
  • Some exceptions to these laws exist. For instance, shuttle services and school buses.)

Besides these laws, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends you register your car and booster seats to receive any safety or recall notices.

Penalties for Breaking Car Seat Laws in Washington State

If law enforcement visually determines that a car seat law has been violated, a traffic infraction can be assessed. However, it can’t be held against a parent or guardian as negligence. (Or even used as evidence of negligence in any court proceeding.)

Here’s something else to consider: parents are responsible for seat belting kids under 16. But if your children are 16 or older, they are responsible for themselves. This means your 17-year-old passenger could receive a citation for not wearing a seatbelt!

Car Seat Resources for Washington State Parents

We know that it can be a lot to navigate these laws as your children grow. Plus, you might want reassurance knowing you’ve installed your child’s seat correctly. Thankfully, there are resources available to help you.

Here are a few that we found while researching this post:

Many times, your local pediatrician or children’s hospital is another source of information on car seats. Make sure to ask when you’re in for your child’s next visit.

When a Child is Injured in a Crash

Sometimes, collisions happen even if you’ve done everything right. And there’s nothing worse when your child is injured. If you’re wondering how to be fairly compensated for your child’s medical care as well as your family’s pain and suffering, it’s time to involve a lawyer.

The car accident lawyers at Ladenburg Law are always able to speak with you at no cost or obligation. If we choose to work together, you’ll only pay us a fee if we’re able to win you a settlement. Contact us today.

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