Whether residing in Florida or traveling within the state, drivers should be aware of Florida’s car seat laws. Florida does not make exceptions to the car seat law for non-residents; therefore, everyone operating a vehicle is required to understand and abide by the state’s car seat laws. A part of the state’s traffic law, Florida State Statute 316.613 outlines child restraint requirements.
Florida’s Child Car Seat Laws
According to the law, children are required to be in a federally approved child restraint device shown to withstand impact from crash testing through the age of 5. Children ages 6 and older do not need to use a car seat but are required to wear a seat belt. The specific breakdown of Florida’s law is as follows:
- Children ages 0-3: Must be properly secured in a separate carrier or the vehicle manufacturer’s built-in child seat
- Children ages 4-5: Must be properly secured in either a separate carrier, child booster seat or the vehicle manufacturer’s built-in child seat
Are There Exceptions to the Law?
The law provides some exceptions to the child car seat rule. The law allows the use of a safety belt as opposed to a car seat in certain situations:
- The child is being transported for free by an individual who is not an immediate family member
- The child is being transported as a result of a medical emergency in which the child was involved
- The child is in need of a medical exception to the law as documented by a healthcare professional
What is Considered a Motor Vehicle?
In the state of Florida, a motor vehicle is defined as an automobile operated on the state’s streets, roadways or highways. The traffic law regarding child restraints specifically excludes the following vehicle types:
- School buses
- Buses used for compensated transportation, such as a city bus
- Farm tractors
- Trucks exceeding 26,000 lbs gross vehicle weight
- Motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles
Car Seat Laws in Private Chauffeured Vehicles
Florida law specifies that child restraint requirements do not apply to chauffeured vehicles, such as taxis, limousines or other passenger vehicles hired for transportation. This would include private car services, such as Uber and Lyft. The law holds parents, guardians or other entities legally responsible for the welfare of the child responsible for adhering to the law in these instances.
What is the Penalty for Not Following Florida’s Car Seat Law?
Failure to follow Florida’s child car seat laws will result in a moving violation and 3 points assessed against the at-fault party’s driver’s license. In some cases, the court may decide to waive the violation and points if the offender completes a child restraint safety program approved by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Does Florida’s Car Seat Law Have Height and Weight Requirements?
Florida state law does not stipulate height and weight requirements for child restraints; it only uses age as the determining factor for child car seat use. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does provide child restraint recommendations that are periodically updated. The current recommendations are:
- Rear-facing child car seats should be used as long as possible until the child reaches the height and/or weight limits specified by the seat’s manufacturer. Most children do not surpass these limits until age 2 or older.
- Forward-facing car seats should be used as long as possible until the seat’s height and/or weight limits are reached. Most convertible car seats have a limit of 65lbs, which means many children can use them until approximately age 6.
- A belt-positioning booster seat should be used when a child reaches the height and/or weight limits of a convertible car seat. Most children do not outgrow a booster seat until sometime between ages 8 and 12, per the AAP.
The AAP recommends child restraints in the rear seat of a vehicle for all children under the age of 13. Though following these recommendations is not a requirement per Florida state law, abiding by these guidelines may reduce risk of death or serious injury by 70%.
Tips for Choosing the Best Car Seat
It is important to note that Florida state law specifies that car seats must be approved by the federal government and capable of withstanding a crash as shown by pre-market testing. Before choosing a new car seat, parents should check to ensure it meets this requirement. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a variety of resources as a guide to choosing the best car seat. A few things to consider before obtaining a car seat include:
- The height and weight of the child
- The size of the vehicle’s back seat
- Whether the vehicle has had any safety-related recalls
- Whether the car seat model has been recalled
- The expiration date of the car seat (usually listed on the underside near the model number)
The NHTSA recommends checking for recalls on both vehicles and child car seats periodically as well as registering a new car seat immediately following purchase. If obtaining a used car seat, NHTSA advises parents to make sure the seat has not been in a car accident or damaged. Used seats should also be inspected to account for all parts, components and the owner’s instruction manual.
Common Car Seat Installation Errors
Each car seat differs by manufacturer and type, which is why the NHTSA provides detailed written instructions for each type of car seat. The most common car seat installation errors include:
- Loose harness. Particularly common in parents of newborns, securing the harness can cause anxiety. Parents are recommended to perform the pinch test. Pinch the fabric of the harness to see how much extra room there is. If able to gather extra fabric, it’s too loose and should be tightened.
- Position of harness clip. A common mistake is to position a 5-point chest harness lower than the sternum (breastbone) near the stomach. This can lead to severe injury if involved in an accident as the harness can damage internal organs. The recommended position of the harness clip is parallel to the armpits.
- Installing the base too loosely. Car seats that have bases in which they snap need the base to be installed snugly. Movement of the base more than 1 inch in either direction means it is not properly secured.
- Failure to use the top tether. Some car seats come equipped with an additional strap meant to be tethered to the vehicle by running the strap over the back of the seat and attaching it to an anchor on the floorboard. Though not a requirement to safely use a car seat, attaching the tether can enhance a car seat’s ability to protect a child in the event of an accident.
Get a Car Seat Safety Check
For over 40 years, Rue & Ziffra personal injury attorneys have worked tirelessly with communities around Volusia and Flagler counties to educate about automobile safety. We have seen our fair share of car accident cases that have effected entire families. Your children are the future, and we must do our very best to protect them. Remember, always read a car seat’s instruction manual and follow all installation and maintenance instructions. For parents and guardians who are unsure if the car seat is properly installed and used, there are a few different places to have the installation checked. The Florida Highway Patrol offers car seat installation and safety checks in many of Florida’s larger counties while local hospitals and community organizations also offer this service for free.