California law: Kids in cars

Kids in California must ride in the back seat in either a car seat or booster seat until the age of 8 or until they are 4 feet 9 inches in height.

Children ages 8 or older may use a vehicle's seat belt without a booster if the seat belt fits properly: lap belt low on their hips, touching the upper thighs, shoulder belt crossing the center of the chest. If children are not tall enough for a seat belt to properly fit, they must ride in a car seat or booster seat.

Advice on rear-facing car seats

The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids should stay in rear-facing seats until at least age 2, but you want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. Riding in a rear-facing car seat is up to five times safer for toddlers than riding in a forward-facing car seat.

Researchers say when children are sitting in rear-facing car seats, the stopping forces are spread out over their entire backs. The back of the car seat becomes a cushion for the child.

However, in the forward-facing position, all of the forces of a crash are focused on the points of the body that come into contact with the car-seat straps. The child's head and limbs keep moving forward, pulling against the seat.

Most children will outgrow a rear-facing infant seat well before their first birthday, but that doesn't mean it's time to turn the baby to face forward.


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The next step is to get a larger car seat that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing

Tips on installing a car seat

Inch test:When the car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the base. Can you move it more than an inch from side to side or front to back? Then it's too loose. A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.

Pinch test: Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots. With the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child's shoulder. You should be unable to pinch any excess webbing.

Where to get help

The California Highway Patrol does free child-safety-seat checks, with 100 or more appointment openings each month. To set up an appointment in San Jose, call 408-467-5400 weekdays.

Other CHP offices in the Bay Area:

Aptos: 831-662-0511

Castro Valley: 510-581-9028

Martinez: 925-646-4980

Dublin: 925-828-0466

Gilroy: 408-848-2324

Hayward: 510-489-1500

Corte Madera: 415-924-1100

Napa: 707-253-4906

Oakland: 510-450-3821

Redwood City: 650-369-6261

San Francisco: 415-557-1094

Rohnert Park: 707-588-1400

Fairfield: 707-428-2100