2023 Virginia Car Seat Laws
If you have recently become a parent in Charlottesville, you are likely dealing with many requirements for keeping your child healthy and safe. One you should not overlook is car seat laws in Virginia.
Until they turn 8 years old, children in Virginia must be buckled into approved child safety seats when riding in motor vehicles. There are two types of child safety seats: rear-facing car seats and front-facing car seats. Children are to ride in a rear-facing safety seat until the age of 2 or until the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing safety seat as prescribed by the seat manufacturer.
Car seats belong in the back seat of a vehicle. They may be placed in the front passenger seat only if the vehicle is either not equipped with a passenger-side airbag or the passenger-side airbag has been turned off.
More About Virginia Car Seat Laws
Virginia’s child restraint laws are found in the Code of Virginia Chapter 10 Article 13. Virginia car seat laws are based on the child’s age and proper use of a safety seat, which depends on the child’s weight and height and the seat manufacturer’s instructions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which provides extensive information about choosing and using child safety seats, says that as children grow, how they ride safely in a car will change. Make sure you use a car seat that fits your child’s current size and age.
Virginia car seat requirements by age
Children must ride in a rear-facing safety seat until the age of 2 or until the child reaches the minimum weight for a forward-facing car seat as stated by the seat manufacturer. Newer car seats can handle children who weigh as much as 40 to 50 pounds.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the NHTSA also recommend using a rear-facing child safety seat until the child turns 2 or longer if the seat has higher weight and height limits specified by the manufacturer, the VA Department of Health says.
Age 2 to 7
After a child has outgrown their rear-facing safety seat, the child should ride in a forward-facing child safety seat with a 5-point harness until the child reaches the upper weight or height limit of the seat. The harness is the webbing portion of the car seat that adjusts over the baby to hold him or her in the seat. Its five points are where the harness webbing attaches to the car seat.
A child who is not yet 8 years old but has outgrown their forward-facing safety seat should ride in a booster seat. A booster seat raises and positions a child so the vehicle’s lap-and-shoulder belt fits properly over the child’s hips and chest.
At age 8, a child in Virginia is permitted to sit in vehicles buckled up in seat and shoulder belts. However, if the seat belt does not yet fit a child correctly, the child should remain in a booster seat.
Seat belts fit correctly when:
- The child sits with their back against the seat and the child’s knees bend over the edge of the vehicle seat cushion and their feet rest flat on the floor.
- The shoulder belt rests across their chest midway between the shoulder and neck, usually requiring a child to be at least 4’9″ tall if not in a booster seat.
- The lap belt fits low and snug across the hips, touching the upper thighs.
There are assistance programs for low-income families who cannot afford child safety seats. Contact the Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Injury and Violence Prevention at 1-800-732-8333 for more information.
You may be fined $50 for failure to have a child in a child restraint device. If you are found guilty a second or subsequent time, you will be fined up to $500. An additional $20 civil penalty fine is assessed if you are transporting a child exempted from this law due to medical reasons but do not have a written statement of the exemption. All fines collected go into a special fund to buy safety seats for low-income families.
Injuries Caused by Defective Child Car Seats
A car seat must fit the child and be installed correctly to fully protect the child who sits in it. If a child safety seat is not installed properly or is defective, a child can be gravely injured in a car accident.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in a recent year, 607 passengers ages 12 and younger were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, and more than 63,000 were injured. Of the children killed in crashes, 38% were not buckled up in car seats or seat belts.
Among the injuries commonly suffered in car accidents, children are particularly susceptible to:
- Head and traumatic brain injuries.
- Spinal cord injuries
- Injuries to the chest, ribs, heart, and lungs
- Broken bones
Why It Is Important to Replace a Car Seat after an Accident
The NHTSA recommends replacing children’s car seats after a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for children in the vehicle. Car seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash, NHTSA says.
A minor crash is one in which ALL of the following apply:
- The vehicle could be driven away from the crash site.
- The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged.
- No one in the vehicle was injured in the crash.
- If the vehicle has airbags, the airbags did not deploy during the crash.
- There is no visible damage to the car seat.
However, a medically reviewed article on the Very Well Family blog says if your child’s car seat manufacturer says to replace the seat after any crash (even a minor one), you should comply.
“Even an empty car seat that was buckled into the vehicle will experience crash forces,” the post says. “The force of the car seat moving forward and being held back by the lower anchor strap or tether strap can cause damage that may be invisible but might keep the car seat from doing its job if you’re in another crash.”
The blog post concludes that a car seat is designed to protect a child through one crash. Most manufacturers, like Graco and Fisher Price, recommend replacing their car seats after any collision.
When Does Insurance Cover The Cost to Replace a Child Safety Seat?
In most cases, your insurance company will cover the cost of replacing a child car seat or booster seat if it approves your car accident claim. Your settlement may even pay to buy a different type of seat, such as if your child was close to outgrowing the seat that was in the accident.
If you can, submit a receipt for the damaged car seat as part of your insurance claim. If you used a credit card to buy it, your credit card provider should have records of your purchases available online. Debit card records or canceled checks may be available through your bank. You should also submit photos of the damaged car and the car seat’s serial number and expiration date usually located under the lining on the plastic seat.
Finally, cut the straps on the car seat and submit photos of the seat with its straps cut. Cutting the straps ensures that the child seat cannot be used again.
Contact a Charlottesville Car Accident Child Injury Lawyer
If you or your child has suffered an injury in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence in the Charlottesville, VA, area, you and your family may be entitled to compensation for your losses. An attorney at the Kendall Law Firm who understands child injuries and car accidents can help you.
Our founding partner, David Kendall, served as a Judge Advocate General in the Marine Corps, after which he practiced personal injury law in Central Virginia for 21 years before opening the Kendall Law Firm to serve the people of Charlottesville and Central Virginia. Kendall Law Firm focuses solely on representing people who have been injured due to someone else’s intentional acts or negligence.
Contact the Kendall Law Firm today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a member of our legal team. We’ll explain your family’s legal rights and options for seeking just compensation after a serious car accident.