Washington DC car seat laws: what parents and caregivers need to know to keep children safe
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hundreds of children die in traffic crashes across the nation, and approximately 100,000 suffer injuries each year. Unfortunately, infants and young children in the Washington D.C. area face the risk of accident and injury, especially in the area’s heavy traffic. Car seat laws impose restrictions on the use of car seats depending on the age of the child.
Child restraint systems, whether car seats or booster seats, require the use of a seatbelt. The CDC also reports that almost half the time, parents and caregivers transporting infants and young children misuse car seats and booster seats, reducing their effectiveness. Even the safest drivers can wind up in accidents caused by other negligent motorists. Proper use of restraint systems saves children’s lives.
Below we offer a broad overview of Washington D.C. car seat laws, including requirements about the type of seats required for children based on their age, height, and weight. We also provide additional information about how you can keep your children or the children you care for safe when they are passengers in your vehicle, and what you should do if you get in a car accident in the D.C. area.
D.C. Child Restraint Law
Under Washington D.C. law, any child under the age of 16 must be in a child safety seat or wear a seatbelt, and children under the age of eight must be in an infant or booster seat. Although it’s not mandatory, the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department recommends all children ride in the back seat until they reach age 13.
D.C. car seat laws do not offer more specifics, except that child restraint devices should be used in accordance with manufacturer instructions. Below we outline CDC recommendations for each type of restraint:
Rear-Facing Car Seat
Infants need to be in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of a vehicle as long as possible. You should not consider a different configuration until at least age two, and you can let your child passenger remain in a rear-facing car seat up until age four. The exact time that you choose to switch configurations will depend on your child’s weight and height and the specific limits of your infant car seat.
Forward-Facing Car Seat
Once a child has outgrown a rear-facing car seat, the next step is to restrain them in a forward-facing car seat. The CDC recommends that children remain buckled in a forward-facing car seat until they outgrow the maximum height or weight limit on their seat. In the vast majority of situations, children should be in a forward-facing car seat until at least age five.
A booster seat fills the gap between car seats and seat belts. Once children grow out of car seats, seat belts do not fit them, so they need to sit on a booster seat. The age that a child outgrows a booster seat varies based on height. Seat belts do not work for children until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. For most children, this height comes no sooner than age nine.
Once the lap portion of a seat belt lays across a child’s thighs and not their stomach, they can go without a booster seat. The shoulder harness must also lay across the chest and not the neck. Once again, there is no age requirement. Instead, you must examine a child’s height and fit before you can allow them to go without a booster.
Tips to Keep Your Child Passengers Safe
Above, we covered the restraints you should use for child passengers based on their age, height, and/or weight, depending on the situation. Yet, parents and caregivers who transport young children should also be familiar with other actions beyond those covered by car seat laws to keep children safe while riding. The following tips provide critical information that could mean the difference between the life or death of your child passenger if you are involved in a car accident.
Proper Installation is Key
As mentioned above, misuse of child seats and booster seats reduces their effectiveness. You can ensure your child is as safe as possible if you install car seats and booster seats according to the manufacturer’s instruction manual. You can also find a child passenger safety technician to help you install a seat. Several D.C. Metro police officers are technicians. You can also find a technician at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
You should also periodically check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website. They provide a list of manufacturer recalls for a variety of products, including car seats and booster seats. If the product is faulty or the company provided incorrect installation instructions, you want to get a new device or adjust your installation as soon as possible.
Avoid Placing Children in Front of Airbags
Airbags are incredible safety devices that save thousands of lives each year. However, their deployment is strong. The force of an airbag can be fatal for young children, so avoid letting children ride in the front seat, even if they are in a rear-facing car seat. The force of an airbag on a car seat can cause injuries or potentially kill an infant in the seat.
Use the Middle of the Back Seat When Possible
According to the CDC, the safest spot in a vehicle is in the middle of the back seat. If you are only transporting one child, you should place them in the middle, whether in a car seat or booster seat. Obviously, if you have multiple children, you need to use your entire back seat.
Use Car Seats and Other Restraints on EVERY Trip
Sometimes people are in a hurry, or they are only running to the post office, grocery store, or performing some quick errand. Some mistakenly assume, “I’m only going a little way, so I don’t have to buckle my child up.” Even if you are only traveling two blocks, you need to buckle children in their car seats, booster seats, or seat belts. Not only is it in accordance with car seat laws, but you protect your child passengers from the worst. Research shows that the vast majority of traffic accidents occur within 10 miles of someone’s home.
Be a Good Role Model
As children age, they will buckle themselves into car seats, boosters, and seat belts. Seeing the adults they love buckle-up normalizes this behavior. By using your seatbelt, you demonstrate safe behavior to the children who ride with you. This can also prevent any struggles about buckling up later on. When adults model safe behavior, children know it’s expected.
Steps to Take After a Car Accident
After a car accident, your health and safety and the health and safety of your passengers are the top priority. Your immediate response should be to call 911 if you are conscious. Aside from seeking medical treatment, you want to take some other steps to protect the value of an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. The steps you take in the minutes, hours, and weeks after a car accident can impact whether you can recover compensation for damages related to your injuries and/or your child’s car accident injuries.
Gather Contact Information
The police will fill out a formal report and gather information when they come to the accident scene. However, sometimes police make mistakes, or they arrive late because they’re busy. If you are physically able, get the name, address, phone, and insurance information from the driver who struck your vehicle. You should also take note and get contact information from any potential eyewitnesses. Witnesses support your claim and give you a better chance to recover damages.
Take Photos of Damage and Injuries
Once street crews come to the scene of an accident, potentially valuable evidence is swept away for good. Use your smartphone to take pictures of the scene of the accident, property damage to vehicles, and any visible injuries. This includes take picture of your infant or child’s visible injuries. Photographic evidence makes it difficult for insurance companies to try to argue the accident didn’t cause an injury.
Contact a Reputable Washington D.C. Car Accident Lawyer
Car accidents are traumatic events that sometimes lead to permanent or fatal injuries that devastate families. Young children are even more at risk for injuries because of their small frames. However, even accidents at low speeds can cause a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other permanent injuries in children that come with lifelong struggles.
An experienced D.C. car accident lawyer can help guide you through the claims process and build a strong case against the other side. When children suffer injuries, insurance claims and lawsuits are about much more than seeking compensation. Those who suffer serious injuries sometimes need lifelong care and treatment. Compensation from a settlement or jury award can provide the funding a family needs to provide care for a loved one who suffered severe car accident injuries.
Contact the skilled car accident lawyers at Regan Zambri Long at 202-960-4596 for a free case review if you or your child has suffered injuries in a car accident due to another driver’s negligence.