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Around 20% of all children and teenagers in Texas die in motor vehicle accidents. The results of a recent study show that Texas is one of the most dangerous states for child passengers because over a thousand minors die in car accidents every year.
Statistics also indicate that more than half of car seats for children aged eight or younger aren’t installed correctly. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, a car accident occurs every minute, while one person dies every 2 hours.
As a parent of a young child, those statistics are very disconcerting. These numbers suggest that Texas has more fatal car crashes than any other state. All drivers transporting minors must comply with Texas car seat laws, and they face harsh penalties if they don’t secure a child properly.
The state law also offers clear instructions on how and when to use infant, front-facing, and booster seats. I’ll walk you through the vital aspects of Texas car seat laws and recommend several organizations that can help you make sure your child’s seat is installed correctly.
Bottom Line Up Front
Despite the state’s efforts, children keep dying in car accidents. Transportation Code outlines the safety measures drivers must take while transporting minors and provides car seat guidelines for children in different age groups.
The state’s laws apply to children up to the age of eight and allow all kids above this age limit to use the vehicle’s seat belt system. The Transportation Code recognizes violations of the child passenger regulations as a misdemeanor and carries a base fine of up to $250.
In-Depth Guide to Texas Car Seat Laws
Car seat laws changed significantly in the last couple of decades. The state first introduced mandatory safety seats in 2009 for children up to eight years old, while recent bills provided stricter guidelines for rear-facing seats.
Under the current law, all drivers in Texas must follow these rules:
- According to the Texas Department of Transportation, toddlers should be in rear-facing seats until they turn two. The previous version of the state law allowed parents to switch to a front-facing seat after the baby’s first birthday.
- Children younger than four or under the 40lbs weight limit should ride in front-facing seats. They can graduate to booster seats upon meeting the state’s age or weight requirement.
- High-back or backless booster seats are mandatory for all children until their 8th birthday.
- All passengers, including minors over the age of 8, must be secured with a seat belt.
- The state’s car seat laws don’t apply to vehicles for hire.
Rear-facing and Front-facing Seat Recommendations in Texas
An abundance of evidence proves that the rear-facing riding position protects infants from serious injuries. That’s why the general recommendation for parents is to keep using the rare-facing infant seat as long as possible.
In Texas, parents are advised to keep their children in rear-facing positions until they’re big enough to sit in the front-facing position. The law doesn’t provide a clear age limit when parents should switch from one position to the other.
However, I don’t think switching to a front-facing seat is advisable as soon as a child turns two. Although the state’s legal child weight limit for front-facing seats is 35lbs, I suggest waiting until your child weighs well over 40lbs before changing their car safety seat.
Parents must ensure that the safety car seat is installed properly and that its belts are correctly positioned across the child’s shoulders, chest, and upper thighs. According to Texas law, failing to restrain a child properly is punishable by a fine of up to $250.
Convertible Car Seat Models
The law doesn’t specify which car seat type drivers must use while riding with children under the age of four. Hence, parents are within their rights to use convertible car seats they can install in rear and front-facing positions.
These seats have higher weight and height limits than standard infant seats like the Evenflo SafeMax or Doona Car Seat & Stroller. So, models like Nuna Rava and Graco My Ride 65 LX enable parents to keep using the same seat after their children meet the requirements to ride in the forward-facing position.
Their weight limit varies between 65lbs and 70lbs, and they can accommodate toddlers that are up to 55 inches tall. The so-called all-in-one car seats can help parents follow the state’s recommendation to continue using the rear-facing position as long as possible by reducing the chances of a child outgrowing the seat in 24 months.
Graduating to Booster Seats in Texas
Texas car seat laws only indicate that parents should continue using a front-facing or convertible seat until a child exceeds its weight and height limits, but it doesn’t set a hard age limit at which children must switch to booster seats.
However, the law doesn’t recommend these seats for children under four years of age with less than 40lbs of body weight. Parents can choose from Graco Highback TurboBuster, narrow booster car seats, or backless seat options without worrying about the state’s regulations.
Still, you’ll have to continue using a booster seat until your child reaches a height of 4.9-feet or turns eight years old. I think starting to use the adult safety belt system too soon isn’t a good idea, even if your child meets the state’s legal age, because you might unnecessarily expose it to danger.
Texas law doesn’t indicate the age at which children can sit in the front seat, so technically, it isn’t illegal to allow an eight-year-old or a ten-year-old to sit in the passenger seat. Federal government road traffic agencies state that children younger than 13 should sit in the back of vehicles with active airbag systems.
Fines and Penalties
Illinois, Ohio, and other states have similar car seat laws to Texas. Consequently, the fines and penalties you’ll be facing if you brake this law in Texas are at the national average.
Caretakers and parents that don’t have a safety car seat in their vehicle will receive a misdemeanor charge that involves a $25 to $250 fee. Depending on the circumstances, you might also get two points on your driving record, which could affect your car insurance rate.
Texas DPS removes one point from the driver’s record after 12 months of driving without violations, which means you’ll need two years to erase the points you’ll get if you break the state’s car seat laws.
In some cases, the court can order parents to attend the six-hour seat belt course aimed at drivers charged with seat belt violations. Ignoring a safety car seat ticket can result in other fines and penalties, but the offense isn’t punishable by incarceration.
Nonetheless, you might face child endangerment charges for repeated offenses or even if the car seat you’re using doesn’t meet the legal requirements.
Texas Car Seat Laws Exceptions
The state recognizes cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans with up to fifteen seats as passenger vehicles, which means that car seat laws apply to each of these categories of vehicles. Buses and vehicles for hire, like cabs or limousines, are exempt from the Texas car seat laws. Hence, it’s the responsibility of the parents to ensure their child is safely transported during short cab rides.
These laws don’t apply to recreational vehicles because their seat positions make installation of infant, convertible, or booster seats impossible. The state’s general recommendation is to avoid traveling in RVs with children that are too young to use adult seat belts.
Moreover, the car seat laws don’t apply in situations when all passenger vehicle safety systems and seat belts are already in use. Authorized emergency vehicles like ambulances, fire trucks, or police cars aren’t required to have child safety seats while transporting minors.
Click It or Ticket
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched the Click It or Ticket campaign to raise awareness about the importance of seat belts among young people. Texas joined the campaign in 2002 that helped save thousands of lives in the last twenty years.
The Click It or Ticket website can help parents choose the right car seat for their child, learn how to avoid common installation mistakes, and schedule the safety seat inspection. The program also helps parents and caretakers find CPC classes in their local communities and offers advice for first-time safety seat shoppers.
Child Passenger Safety Organizations
Texans have abundant resources at their disposal if they need assistance obtaining, installing, or inspecting a safety seat. Most police and fire stations offer free safety seat inspections and courses held by certified child safety technicians that show parents how to install their child’s seat.
Child Safety Seat Distribution and Education
The Texas Department of State’s Health Services division runs the Safe Rider program dedicated to Child Safety Seat Distribution and Education. Its aim is to coordinate the statewide distribution of safety seats to low-income families and mothers in the late stages of their pregnancies.
The program also includes free public child passenger safety classes available to all Texas residents.
The non-profit organization has numerous locations in north, middle and south Texas. Safe Kids helps parents locate the nearest safety seat inspection point where they can learn to install car seats in less than thirty minutes. The organization has a car seat replacement program that aids caregivers who are currently using expired or unsafe seats.
Children’s hospitals in Texas often have car seat programs. Children’s Health pediatrics institution lets parents inspect car seats at two locations in North Texas. However, the hospital doesn’t have free seat or seat exchange programs.
Kids in Cars
Residents of Caldwell, Travis, Hays, Williamson, and Bastrop counties are eligible to participate in the Dell Children’s medical center’s Kids in Cars community project. The program provides free seat installation courses and inspections performed by licensed technicians.
Car Seat Prices
Brands like Nuna, Chico, or Evenflo produce some of the best car seats for children of all ages, but their top models can cost more than $500. Mid-range brands like Britax have affordable models like the B-Safe that cost around $200, while you can get some of Graco’s car seat models for less than $50.
Still, I don’t recommend opting for inexpensive car seat options because they lack the safety options that can protect your child in an accident. Families experiencing financial hardship can apply for a car seat program in their county.
Answer: The first seat belt law in Texas was passed in 1985, and it mandated the use of seat belts by children under the age of 11.
Answer: Yes, leaving a child alone in a car for more than five minutes is illegal. However, the law allows leaving children under seven with a minor older than 14.
Answer: You’re not required by the law to replace a car seat if you’ve been in an accident, but you should get a new car seat if the old one is damaged.
Traffic safety should be each parent’s top priority, as thousands of children die on the roads throughout the country. The number of deadly accidents in Texas has been on the rise in the last few years, as the state’s fatality rate has increased by 7.54% in the previous year.
Moreover, the statistics show that 60% of child safety seats aren’t installed correctly, which leads to a higher number of deaths and injuries of children under the age of ten. Staying compliant with Texas car seat laws doesn’t take much effort since you just have to know how to install the seat, use its harness system and ensure your child doesn’t exceed its weight and height limits.
If you don’t feel confident installing a seat, you can seek assistance at a local police station or a medical facility.