Child safety has always been the top priority for parents, and one of the most crucial aspects of ensuring their safety is by obeying car seat laws. In North Carolina, there are specific laws regarding car seat usage that parents need to abide by. Here is everything you need to know about NC car seat laws.
Different Types of Car Seats in NC
Car seats are designed to keep children safe during a car ride. Depending on the age, weight, and height of the child, there are different types of car seats to choose from.
Rear-facing car seats: These are designed to be used for infants and young babies. They are installed in the back seat of a car and face the back of the vehicle. Rear-facing car seats have a five-point harness that secures the baby in place.
Forward-facing car seats: These are designed for toddlers and young children who are too big for rear-facing car seats. They are secured in the front of the vehicle and have a five-point harness.
Booster seats: Designed for children who have outgrown their forward-facing car seats, but are still too small to wear seat belts properly. They lift the child up so that the seat belt fits correctly.
Understanding the NC Car Seat Laws
North Carolina has specific car seat laws in place to keep children safe on the road. Passengers age 16 and older are covered by the North Carolina Seat Belt Law. The NC Child Passenger Safety Law applies to all vehicles required by federal standards to have seat belts. This includes all passenger cars manufactured after 1967 and vans, pickups, and SUVs manufactured after 1971.
- All drivers and passengers, regardless of age, must be properly buckled up in vehicles required to have seat belts.
- Children younger than age 8 and who weigh less than 80 pounds must be properly secured in a child restraint or booster seat.
- Children less than age 5 and less than 40 pounds must be in the rear seat if the vehicle has an active passenger-side front air bag and a rear seat.
- When a child reaches age 8 (regardless of weight) or 80 pounds (regardless of age), a correctly fitted seat belt may be used instead of a child restraint or booster seat. Placing the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the back is both illegal and unsafe.
- Booster seats must not be used with just a lap belt, so lap-only seat belts can be used for children over 40 pounds if no lap and shoulder seat belt is available.
- Children less than age 16 are prohibited from riding in the open bed of a pickup truck or other open cargo area.
- Drivers are legally responsible for themselves and all children less than age 16 in the vehicle.
North Carolina Rear-Facing Car Seat Law
Children under the age of 2 must be secured in a rear-facing car seat. If a child has outgrown a rear-facing car seat, they may switch to a forward-facing car seat, but only when they reach the maximum height and weight limit of the rear-facing seat.
North Carolina Front-Facing Car Seat Law
Once a child grows out of their rear-facing seat, they must be secured in a forward-facing car seat until they reach the age of 8 or 80 pounds.
North Carolina Booster Seat Law
Children under 8 years of age or less than 80 pounds must be secured in a booster seat. A booster seat lifts the child so that seat belts fit correctly.
Leaving Child in Car Law in North Carolina
It is illegal to leave a child under the age of 6 unattended in a vehicle. This includes leaving a child in a car for any length of time.
Taxi Car Seat Law in North Carolina
Taxi drivers are not required to provide car seats for children. It is the responsibility of the parent to bring their child’s car seat with them when using a taxi.
Other North Carolina Car Seat Requirements
- Use rear-facing child restraints as long as possible, but at least until age 2 for maximum protection. Children are five times safer riding rear-facing than forward-facing into the second year of life. Most current convertible models can—and should—be used rear-facing up to at least 30 pounds.
- Once a child is turned to face the front of the car, use a child restraint with a harness until the harness is outgrown, from 40 to 80 pounds, depending on the model.
- Once a child outgrows the harness, use a belt-positioning booster seat until the child is large enough for the seat belt to fit correctly.
- Use seat belts for older children only when they are large enough for both the lap and shoulder belts to fit correctly.
- For all seats, always check height and weight limits. Whenever possible, keep children younger than age 13 buckled up in a rear seat of the vehicle.
Exemptions Of The Law
The following exemptions to the law exist:
- Vehicles not required to have seat belts (such as cars made before 1968 and pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans made before 1972, and large buses)
- Ambulances and other emergency vehicles
- If all seats with seat belts are occupied, any remaining children can legally ride unrestrained.
Penalties For Violating The Law
The penalty for not complying with the NC Child Restraint/Booster Seat law is 2 driver license points, a $25 fine and at least $120 court costs.
- Driver is responsible for all children less than sixteen
- Penalty not to exceed $25
- Full court costs and fees apply to failure to secure a child in an appropriate CRS or seat belt violations
- Two (2) driver license points
- No insurance points
Other States of Car Seat Laws
Tips for Proper Installation of NC Car Seats
The proper installation of your child’s car seat determines their safety on the road. Follow these step-by-step guidelines to ensure you install the car seat correctly:
- The car seat should be secured to the back seat of the car using a seat belt or LATCH system.
- Ensure the car seat is appropriately angled and reclined to support the baby’s head.
- Position the chest clip at the level of your child’s armpit.
- Make sure that the harness straps are tightly buckled, snug on your child’s shoulders, and fastened between their legs.
- Ensure that there is minimal movement in the car seat by pulling and pushing it from the base.
Additionally, here are some quick tips worth remembering when installing the car seat:
- Avoid using a second-hand car seat, especially if it’s more than six years old or has been involved in an accident.
- Read the car seat manual before installation to make sure you’re installing it correctly.
- Make sure that your child’s bulky clothes like coats or sweaters aren’t causing the harness straps to be too loose.
- Check the car seat’s expiration date and replace it if it has surpassed it.
It’s natural for parents to have questions about car seat laws in North Carolina. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and their answers:
When can your child sit in the front seat in North Carolina?
North Carolina law mandates that children under eight years should ride in the back seat unless the car’s back seat is already occupied with other children. Additionally, children under 40 lbs. and below the height of 40 inches must ride in a child restraint system, either a rear-facing car seat or forward-facing car seat with a harness.
What are the outcomes for not following NC car seat laws?
Failure to adhere to North Carolina’s car seat laws can attract fines and court costs. Penalties for not following these laws can range from $10 to $25, with court costs often ranging from $50 to $200.
What is the age and weight for a booster seat in NC?
Children must use booster seats until they reach the age of 8 or weigh at least 80 lbs. Once they meet these measurements, they can transition to using a seat belt, provided it fits them properly.
What are the car seat laws in NC 2023?
Starting from January 1st, 2022, North Carolina child car seat laws will change. Children must use a rear-facing car seat until they turn two years old or until they reach the manufacturer’s recommended height and weight limits. After that, they will transition to a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether, followed by a booster seat until they’re eight years old.
When can kids go to backless booster in NC?
North Carolina law recommends that children use a high-back or backless booster seat until they’re eight years old or weigh at least 80 pounds and the seat belt fits them correctly.
Do you need to change your car seat after an accident?
If you’ve been in an accident, you’ll need to replace the car seat, even if the crash seems minor. Even if the seat appears undamaged, the force experienced during the accident can weaken its structure, making it less effective in case of another accident.
What to do with your car seat after an accident?
Disposing of your car seat will prevent others from using it once it’s no longer safe for use. Cut the straps and write ‘Not for Use’ with a permanent marker to ensure that it won’t be picked up by someone else.
Is it illegal to smoke in a car with a child in North Carolina?
Yes, smoking in a vehicle is illegal in North Carolina if a child under 15 years of age is present in the car. Violators of this law could receive a fine of $25.
North Carolina’s car seat laws are designed to keep children safe while traveling on the road. By understanding the different types of car seats and following the laws, parents and caregivers can ensure that children are always safe and secure in their vehicle. It is essential to follow these laws to avoid any penalties and, most importantly, to protect children from harm in case of an accident.