How Times Have Changed – The Current State of the Law for Restraining Child Passengers in Georgia
by James C. Joedecke, Jr.
Remember the days when, as a young child, you sat between your parents in the front seat of the family sedan or rode in the back of the family station wagon? Those days are long gone. Walk into any big box store today and you will find a multitude of car seats and booster seats in all shapes, sizes, and prices – but what does the law actually require? With manufacturer guidelines, state guidelines, and federal guidelines, it can be hard to tell where the guidelines end and where the law actually begins. Georgia law, in reality, is pretty simple. It requires all children under the age of eight to ride in a proper car or booster seat in the rear of the vehicle. The law itself does not specify which car and booster seat a child should use. For those specifications, we look to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The NHTSA guidelines are broken into three age categories: 0-1, 1-3, and 4-7.
- Age 0-1: Children under the age of one should use a rear facing child seat.
- Age 1-3: Children ages one to three should use a rear facing car seat as long as possible and then transition to a forward facing car seat.
- Age 4-7: Children ages four to seven should use a forward facing car seat as long as possible and then transition to a booster seat.
Failure to properly restrain your children can result in up to a $50 fine and one point on your driver’s license for the first offense and a $100 fine and two points for any subsequent offenses. While you as the driver may be fined, violations do not affect insurance coverage.
The law does include four exceptions:
- Taxi Cabs and Mass Transit: The law does not apply to taxi cabs or mass transit. (However, this exception does not extend to ride share services, such as Uber or Lyft)
- Lap Belt Exception: If a child weighs at least 40 lbs, the child may be secured by a lap belt if the car is not equipped with lap and shoulder belts OR all other lap and shoulder belts are being used to restrain other children.
- Medical Exception: A parent or guardian can obtain a written note from a physician stating that a physical or mental condition prevents the child from being restrained normally.
- Children over 4’9”: Any child over 4’9” is exempt if the parent can show they are properly restrained by a seat belt
Generally, the law requires children be restrained in the rear of the vehicle. However, if there is no rear seat or all the rear seating is restraining other children, a child may sit in the front of the vehicle. However, the child is still required to be in a proper car or booster seat.
Finally, The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in Georgia encourages parents to go beyond the law. Parents are encouraged to keep their child in a booster seat until the child can properly wear a seatbelt, and children should always ride in the rear seat until age 12. Parents should register their car seat to receive notifications about any recalls, and sign up to receive recall alerts via email from the NHTSA. Additionally, while car seats and booster seats are only required until age eight, all minors must always wear a seatbelt, and drivers can be fined up to $25 per child for failure to properly wear a seatbelt. Times sure have changed.
For more information, you can visit the NHTSA’s website on vehicle safety for children: https://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm?view=full
Car Seat Law and Rideshare Service, Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, http://www.gahighwaysafety.org/campaigns/child-passenger-safety/car-seat-laws-and-rideshare-services/.
Child Passenger Safety FAQ, Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, http://www.gahighwaysafety.org/campaigns/child-passenger-safety/child-passenger-safety-faq/.
Parents Central, https://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm?view=full
Stay on the lookout for Jim Joedecke’s monthly articles in the “Inside the Gates” magazine!