Seatbelt and Child Car Seat Laws

Vehicle restraint requirements for adults, children, and external passengers.

Updated 8/10/2020

Most states have laws that require seatbelt for drivers and vehicle passengers and all states have laws mandating that children in vehicles be safely secured in an appropriate car seat or restraint system. The laws of some states even cover the circumstances under which a person can ride in the bed of a pickup truck. Below is a general overview of common requirements and penalties associated with vehicle restraint laws.

Seatbelt Requirements and Ticket Penalties

Of course, the goal of seatbelt laws is to prevent accident-related deaths and injuries. Seatbelts are generally required for all front-seat passengers and all passengers younger than 18 years old.

However, there are no federal seatbelt laws that apply nationwide. In other words, seatbelt requirements are left up to the individual states. So, each state has different rules. For instance, Nebraska requires seatbelts only for front-seat passengers, whereas Oregon requires all vehicle passengers to wear a seatbelt.

Adult seatbelt tickets typically aren't very expensive and won't normally lead to traffic violation demerit points. Depending on the state, fines usually range from about $10 to $150, with most states being at the lower end of the spectrum.

Child Seat Requirements and Ticket Penalties

Every state requires the use of a federally-approved child restraint system for small children. Depending on the age and size of the child, the might require a rear-facing infant harness, forward-facing child harness, or a booster seat.

However, each state sets the specific rules for what age, weight, and height a child should be for each type of seat. And these requirements vary greatly by state. For example, in Arkansas, a child who's at least six years old or 60 pounds doesn't have to be in a child seat. However, in Oklahoma, children passengers must be in a harness or booster until eight years old.

Tickets for child restraint violations tend to be more expensive than adult seatbelt tickets. Fines typically range from about $25 to $500. And some states assess demerit points for child seat violations. However, the laws of many states allow judges to waive the fines if the driver acquires and installs an appropriate child restraint system.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Recommendations

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created car seat recommendations that purportedly meet or exceed all state requirements. So, if you're traveling between states, it may be wise to check the NHTSA recommendations.

Under 1 Year

1 to 8 Years

At least 8 Years

Under 20 pounds

Rear-facing car seat

Rear-facing car seat

20 to 40 pounds

Rear-facing car seat

Convertible or forward-facing car seat

Booster seat

40 to 80 pounds

Booster seat


Truck Bed Rules

Many states don't have rules specifically addressing the legalities of passengers not located inside the vehicle. However, some states have laws that prohibit all passengers or child passengers from riding in truck beds. Other states require appropriate restraints for passengers riding in the back of a truck.

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