Texas car seat laws: Child passenger safety requirements

November 22, 2022

Read on to learn about child car seat safety and child seat belt laws in Texas

Father placing baby in child safety seat 
Whether you’re taking your kids along on your daily errands or traveling for a memorable trip, it’s important that Texans are attentive to car seat safety laws. Being aware of Texas seat belt safety laws will help you avoid traffic violations and keep you and your family safe.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death among children. They also reported that 46% of all car seats are misused. Making sure children are properly secured in a car seat or with a seat belt is crucial to reducing their risk of serious injury or death in the event of a car crash or vehicle emergency. It only takes a few safety precautions to use your safety seats properly and keep your children secure within your vehicle.

Keep reading to find out the best way to keep your family safe.

Texas Car Seat Laws

The first step to following best safety practices for child restraints and avoiding traffic violations is understanding child passenger safety laws in Texas.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) says that children under the age of 8 years old have to be in a child passenger safety seat system appropriate for wherever they are riding in a passenger vehicle. The only exception to this age-based rule is if your child is taller than 4’9”. This means whether your kids need a forward-facing car seat or a booster seat, they must have an appropriately placed safety seat. Installation manuals from your safety seat manufacturer will have rules such as not allowing car or booster seats to be placed on side-facing or rear-facing vehicle seats. Make sure you check the manual!

On your child’s 8th birthday, they are legally allowed to wear just an adult seat belt in the backseat of your car, regardless of their height. However, TDPS suggests that children who aren’t 4’9” yet should stay in their safety seat system until they reach the seat's maximum height and weight limits.

If you do happen not to follow these laws, there is a penalty for not using a child safety seat in Texas. For children under 8 years of age, car seat violations can result in tickets costing $25–$250. For children older than 8 years old but younger than 17 years old, a violation can result in a $100–$200 ticket.

Your Child Safety Seat System

Now that you know the basics of Texas’s child seat belt laws, you’ll need to know what a proper child safety system looks like for your family. As your child grows from infant to teenager, they will transition to the best car seat or seat belt options for their age. But when should you change your child’s car seat?

While age indicates that it’s time to transition, your child’s height and weight is the best marker. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants and toddlers should stay in their car seats for as long as possible. Then, when they reach the maximum weight and height allowed by the seat’s manufacturer, it’s time to transition to the next seat. Transitioning to a new car seat too early can lead to serious injury if a car crash happens.

For a simple idea of what safety seat system to purchase first and what to transition to when it’s time, we can look at National Child Passenger Safety Best Practice Recommendations as of 2020.

Phase 1: Rear-Facing Seats

Rear-facing car seats are the first safety system you’ll need for your infant. Children under the age of 1 year old should be in a rear-facing, convertible infant car seat as long as possible until the height limit or maximum weight limit of the seat is met. You can find instructions for proper installation in your owner’s manual.

That said, if a passenger airbag is in a vehicle's front seat, no rear-facing seats are allowed to be used there. To place a rear-facing seat here, you must manually turn your airbags to off or deactivate your airbags if you are in a smart vehicle.

It’s critical that your child meets the age, height, and weight requirements set by the seat manufacturer BEFORE transitioning to a forward-facing seat. National research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that when babies are turned forward-facing too soon, before their second birthday, they have a greater risk of rupturing or severing their spinal cord in the event of a crash. These severe injuries may result in partial or total paralysis or even death. The longer a child can stay in a rear-facing seat, the better.

Phase 2: Forward-Facing seats

When children outgrow the rear-facing safety seat and reach their 2nd birthday, they should transition to a forward-facing car seat. Similar to the rear-facing seat, once your child is in this toddler car seat, they should stay in as long as possible until they reach the upper height and weight limit of the harnesses.

Phase 3: Booster Seats

When can a child graduate to a booster seat? If your child has outgrown their forward-facing car seat and harness, they may be ready to travel in a booster seat in the backseat of your car.

As your child gets older, their behavior also becomes a factor in deciding if they are ready to transition. Adult seat belts are made for adults at least 4’9”. Booster seats “boost” your child to a height where an adult lap and shoulder belt will fit them properly until they reach this height naturally. Because there is less of a restraint system, your child must behave safely to remain secure.

As many adults know, as much as we’d like kids to do as we say and not as we do, they often copy our behavior. If you don’t already practice proper safety for yourself, it’s time to buckle up to show children it’s the right thing to do (it's also the law).

Phase 4: Adult Safety Belt

When can a child wear a seat belt? As mentioned above, seat belts are part of the safety equipment in the vehicle that is made and tested for adults who are at least 4’9” tall—not children. You want to ensure that your child has truly outgrown their booster seat and that the seat belts in your back seat fit them correctly according to the vehicle manufacturer's instructions.

When you’re testing if your child is ready for just a seatbelt, have them sit all the way back against their seat. For an adult seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must sit on the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should sit across the shoulder, not crossing the neck or face. The knees should also bend easily at the edge of the seat. If the fit isn’t proper or you don’t believe they can sit in this position for an entire car ride, they may still need a booster seat. If your child is ready for an adult seat belt, they should ride in the back seat of your car until the age of 12, which is how old they have to be to ride in the front seat.

If you need support installing your safety seat or want your seat inspected, you can find inspection events near you provided by the Department of Public Safety, or even request assistance from a Child Passenger Safety Technician.

If you cannot afford a safety seat, contact the Department of State Health Services Safe Riders Program in Texas for more information.

Safety tips for selecting and installing a car seat

While Texas mandates that everyone must follow the manufacturer's instructions on their safety seat, all manufacturers follow certain rules based on the United States Department of Public Safety.

Here are some universal safety tips for selecting and installing your car seat:
  • Select a car seat that correctly fits your vehicle.
  • Know the safety seat's history before installing it to ensure that it is not damaged from general use or a car accident. Most manufacturers require that safety seats be destroyed and replaced after a moderate to severe crash.
  • Check the safety seat's maximum height and weight limits to ensure your children are transitioning safely to the correct seat.
  • Check the expiration date printed on your safety seat. If you can’t find an expiration date, the average expiration date is 6 years from the date of manufacture, which is required to be on a label on the seat.
With more information about Texas child passenger laws and a guide to best safety practices, you're prepared to keep your kids safe while in your car. And remember, at the end of the day, the safety seat system is the one that fits your child’s age, weight, height, and behavior, that you can properly install in your vehicle and will be used correctly every time the child rides in it. Safe kids are our top priority.

Mother placing child in child safety seat

For more information about Germania and our insurance products, request a free quote online, or reach out to one of our trusted agents today!

Read more: Safety is a top priority when it comes to driving! Check out our blog to learn more about seat belts and passive restraints!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

What do you want to read more about? For suggestions, questions, or content-related inquiries, contact us at content@germaniainsurance.com!

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