Child Restraint Laws

California Vehicle Code requires children to be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) in the back seat of a vehicle, until they are at least 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall.


4 Steps of Child Growth Safety


Step 1 - Rear Facing SeatsStep1Seat

  • Newborns to children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall.  The child shall be secured in a manner that complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.  (California Vehicle Code Section 27360.)


Step 2 - Forward Facing SeatsStep2Toddler

  • Children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat.


Step 3 - Booster SeatsStep3Booster

  • Children who are 8 years of age OR have reached 4'9" in height may be secured by a booster seat, but at a minimum must be secured by a safety belt.  (California Vehicle Code Section 27363.)


Step 3 - Seat Belt


  • Passengers who are 16 years of age and over are subject to California's Mandatory Seat Belt law.


The current California Law requires Law Enforcement to cite the parent/guardian for EACH child who is not properly and legally restrained by appropriate safety equipment.


When can a child graduate to a booster seat?

California law does not address graduating time from a five-point harness to a booster seat.  In the interest of safety, do not rush to move a child into a booster seat before they're ready.  Each time you "graduate" your child to the next seat, there's a reduction in the level of protection for your child.  Keep your child in each stage for as long as possible.


A child is ready for a booster seat when they have outgrown the weight or height limit of their forward-facing harness, which is typically between 40 and 65 pounds.  Read the forward-facing car seat's owner's manual to determine the height and weight limits, and keep your child in a harnessed seat for as long as possible.


Children at this stage are not yet ready for adult safety belts and should use belt-positioning booster seats until they are at least 4'9" and between 8 and 12 years old.  Safety belts are designed for 165-pound male adults, so it's no wonder that research shows poorly fitting adult belts can injure children.


Facts About Child Restraint Use

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for the age group 4 through 15.
  • Of the 459 occupant fatalities among children from birth through age 4 in 2002, nearly 40 percent were completely unrestrained.
  • In a 2004 study conducted for NHTSA, misuse of child restraints was approximately 73 percent.  The most common problems were loose harness straps securing the child to the seat and loose attachment of the child safety seat to the vehicle.


During 2006, a total of 1,537 children from birth through age 15 were killed in passenger vehicle crashes.  Approximately 50 percent of passenger vehicle occupants in this age group were unrestrained.  The breakdown by age group was:

    • 34 percent of children from birth through age 4 were unrestrained.
    • 40 percent of children ages 5 through 7 were unrestrained.
    • 52 percent of children ages 8 through 12 were unrestrained.

If 100 percent of motor vehicle occupants younger than age 5 had been protected by child safety seats, an estimated 518 lives (an additional 98 lives) could have been saved in 2006.

From 1975 through 2008, an estimated 8,959 lives were saved by the use of child restraints (child safety seats or adult belts).


For additional information regarding current child restraint laws, visit one of the web sites listed below.


External Links

California Law 

National Safe Kids Campaign
California Legislative Information
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

California Highway Patrol

California Child Passenger Safety Contacts
SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A.
California Office of Traffic Safety

California Child Passenger Safety Contacts
AAA Traffic Safety Department
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration



This City of Stockton web page last reviewed on --- 10/10/2017