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Child Restraints and Safety Belts 

Loopholes and Exemptions in the Law

Child passenger safety laws (better known as “car seat laws” or “child restraint laws”) exist in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories. However, gaps or loopholes in the laws and certain exemptions in coverage leave holes in the protective blanket the legislature intended these statutes to create.

Loopholes

Many States do not prescribe the age-specific child restraints people should use. Thus, these States allow adults to restrain children with a safety belt when a safety or booster seat is more appropriate and safer. In addition, most States do not impose restraint requirements on children older than 12. Many States even allow 10-year-old children to ride in the back seat without safety belts.

Additionally, many states place sole responsibility for child restraints on the parents or
guardians. This means that non-parental, non-guardian drivers may not be sanctioned for not restraining children.7

Exemptions

There are several exemptions in many State laws that leave children unprotected in vehicles.8 In nearly half of the States, children can ride unsecured if all safety belts are in use. This means that if a vehicle is overcrowded and other occupants are using all of the safety belts, nobody can be cited if children are unbelted. Another common exemption allows parents, guardians, or other adults to “attend to the personal needs of the child.” This exemption permits an adult to carry a child on his or her lap, while the vehicle is in motion, for the purposes of feeding or other similar activities. Many States do not require that children be restrained if the operator of that vehicle is from a different State. These exemptions may allow parents or guardians to legally endanger their children. See Appendices.

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7 “Strengthening Child Passenger Safety Laws – Increase Child Safety Seat and Belt Use, Decrease Crash Fatalities and Injuries,” Traffic Safety Facts, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, March 2004.

8 Id.

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