Keeping your child restrained in an approved child safety seat is vital to ensuring that your child is safe while riding in a vehicle. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of unintentional death in children over the age of 3, according to a 2010 report from the National Center for Health Statistics. A child restraint system can reduce your child’s risk of death in a car accident by 54 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state of Washington -- like all 50 states -- has a specific set of requirements for child restraints.
Birth Through Age 1
Washington state law states that a child who is less than 1 year old and who is less than 20 pounds must remain in a rear-facing car seat. Rear-facing car seats protect your child’s neck and spine in the event of a crash by reducing the forward motion of her head during impact. While the law in Washington state only requires a child ride in a rear-facing seat until the age of 1 year old, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children remain in a rear-facing car seat until she outgrows both the height and weight limits of her rear-facing seat and has reached the age of 2 years old. A rear-facing child seat should remain in the back seat of a vehicle at all times; if a back seat is unavailable, the front seat airbags must be turned off.
Age 1 Through 4
When your child outgrows his rear-facing car seat, you can move him into a forward facing, five-point harness seat. A forward-facing, five-point harness seat is similar to a rear-facing seat, except your child will face the front of the vehicle instead of the rear. According to Washington state law, your child must remain in a forward-facing seat until he reaches the age of 4 and weighs at least 40 pounds. The AAP recommends that a child remains in a forward-facing seat until he exceeds the height or weight limits of his forward-facing seat -- even if he has reached the age of 4 and exceeds 40 pounds.
Age 4 Through 8
After your child has grown out of her forward-facing car seat, she will need to move to a booster seat. Children are not tall enough to use a seat belt alone properly until they have reached the height of 4 feet, 9 inches. Washington law requires that a booster seat remains in use until your child reaches her 8th birthday or exceeds 4 feet, 9 inches, in height. The exception to the booster seat law in Washington is if only a lap belt -- no shoulder belt -- is available and the child is at least 40 pounds.
Age 8 and Above
Washington law requires that children ride in the back seat of a vehicle if available until the age of 13. The use of the seat belt is mandatory for children up to the age of 15, and the fine for violating any of the child restraint laws in the state of Washington is at least $112 per child.
- Washington State Booster Seat Coalition: Washington State Booster Seat Laws
- Washington.gov: Washington's Child Restraint Law, The Anton Skeen Act
- Governors Highway Association: Child Passenger Safety Laws
- American Academy of Pediatrics: AAP Updates Recommendation on Car Seats
- Centers For Disease Control and Prevention: Child Passenger Safety: Fact Sheet
- National Center for Health Statistics: 10 Leading Causes of Unintentional Injury Deaths, United States
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