Keeping a child safe in a motor vehicle requires special measures. Cars do not automatically come with seats that keep children safe in accidents. Instead, parents must install devices separately. Each state has laws and requirements for child safety systems. According to the American SPCC, using the right car seats and safety restraints can reduce the risk of serious injuries by 50 to 70 percent. It is critical to understand the car seat laws in Texas to avoid legal trouble and to keep your child safe from injuries.

Safety Seat Requirement for Small Children

As of September 1, 2009, Texas Transportation Code 545.412 states that all children under the age of eight and less than four feet, nine inches tall must ride in child safety seats while in motor vehicles. Child passenger safety seat systems are required during the operation of the vehicle. The parent or guardian must install and use the safety seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

An offense under Texas’ car seat law is a misdemeanor punishable with a fine of $25 to $250 per offense. It is a usable defense if the driver was operating the vehicle in an emergency. The only exceptions are someone driving a vehicle that transports passengers for hire or a vehicle where all passenger safety seat systems are occupied by other children.

The Right Seat for the Child

It is not enough to install just any car seat. The seat must be the appropriate type for the age, size and weight of the child. The Texas Department of Public Safety stipulates two different types of seats to be used for children of different ages and heights. It is critical to use the right type for your child if you wish to reduce the odds of a serious injury in an auto accident.

  • Rear-facing car seat. Newborns and infants under the age of one should ride in car seats that face the back of the vehicle. Infants should remain in rear-facing car seats until they reach the seat’s maximum height or weight limit as stated by the manufacturer. The rear-facing seat must be properly installed in the vehicle according to the owner’s manual.
  • Forward-facing car seat. A child can graduate to a forward-facing car seat only when he or she outgrows the rear-facing seat. This typically occurs at two years old, but the age can vary according to the child’s height and weight. Read the instructions on your forward-facing seat to make sure your child fits the parameters before making the switch. It is safest for your child to use a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible.

Car seats should always be installed in the back seat of a vehicle unless the vehicle does not have a back seat. It is dangerous to put car seats and small children in the front seat due to risks associated with the force of airbag deployment in an accident. If you need assistance choosing the right car seat or properly installing a child passenger safety seat system in your car in Texas, visit a free inspection station near you.

Booster Seats for Older Children

Texas law also requires the use of a booster seat after a child has outgrown a car seat. A booster seat lifts a small child into the proper position so he or she can use an adult safety belt. Under state law, all children over the age of 5 and more than 36 inches tall can graduate to booster seats. Your child should stay in a forward-facing car seat until he or she reaches the maximum height and weight limits on the seat.

Seat Belts Required for Teens

The final phase is switching your child from a booster seat to a standard adult seat belt. This should only happen when your child has reached eight years old and is at least four feet, nine inches tall. If your child is older than eight but still not tall enough, he or she should continue using a booster seat. The seat belt should fit snugly across the tops of your child’s thighs, not the hips, and across the collarbone and shoulder.

Once your child can correctly use a seat belt, he or she must wear one until the age of 17. Texas law does not require adults 18 and older to wear seatbelts in motor vehicles. Continuing to use a seat belt, however, can be extremely important for safety reasons. Wearing a seat belt can substantially reduce your risk of serious injuries in a car accident. Lead your teen by example by always buckling up.