North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Law

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to the most common questions asked about the North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Law.  If you have a question that is not answered on the list below, contact a local program or call 1-800-672-4527 x2 during normal business hours.

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  • Are there differences between what the NC law allows and what is recommended for buckling up children?
    • Yes.  What is allowed under the North Carolina Child Passenger Safety law should be considered to be “minimum standards” and is not necessarily what is recommended to provide the best protection. For best practice recommendations, refer to Choosing and Using Car Seats.
  • When can my child use a car seat that faces the front of the car?
    • The only requirement under North Carolina law is that any seat used must be used correctly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Every car seat and booster seat has a different set of requirements for use that may include age, height, and weight requirements.  Legally, a child can turn to face the front of the car as long as they meet the minimum requirements for forward-facing specified by the manufacturer (generally at least 1 year old and at least 20 pounds).  However, in this case the law should be considered to be a bare minimum standard.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are five times safer riding rear-facing than forward-facing. For best protection children should stay rear-facing until they outgrow the rear-facing seat based on weight or height.  At a minimum, children should stay rear-facing until at least age 2.
    • Refer to choosing and using for more information about keeping children facing the rear as long as possible for maximum safety.
  • When can my child ride in the front seat?
    • According to North Carolina law, children less than age 5 and less than 40 pounds must be in the back seat in vehicles with active passenger-side front airbags.  However, the recommendation is to keep kids in the back seat until they are 12 or 13.  Rear-facing car seats cannot be installed in front of an active airbag.  The child could be seriously injured or killed if there is a crash and the airbag deploys.
    • It is legal, though not necessarily recommended, for a child to ride in the front seat if any of the following apply:
      » The vehicle has no front passenger air bag
      » The vehicle has a front passenger air bag that is turned off with an on/off switch
      » The vehicle has no rear seat
      » The child is 5 years or older
      » The child weighs 40 pounds or more
    • If a child needs to ride in the front seat, you should still use a car seat or booster seat where appropriate.  However, rear-facing seats can NEVER be used in front of an active airbag. Rear-facing car seats must always be in the back seat unless the vehicle has no front passenger airbag or unless the front passenger airbag can be turned off.
    • For forward-facing kids in harness seats or booster seats in the front seat, move the front seat back to move it away from the airbag or turn the airbag off in vehicles with an airbag on/off switch.
    • Children of any age are allowed to ride in the front seat of vehicles that do not have a back seat (such as single cab pickup trucks or two-seater sports cars) however rear-facing seats can only be installed in the vehicle if the vehicle has no airbag or if the airbag can be disabled.
  • Does the law require children to be both age 8 AND 80 pounds before using a seatbelt alone?
    • No. When a child reaches age 8 (regardless of weight) OR reaches 80 pounds (regardless of age), a properly fitted seat belt may be used instead of a child restraint/booster to restrain the child.  However, keep in mind that the seatbelt may not fit properly even if the child is 8 years old or weighs 80 pounds. The law does require that children stay in a child restraint or booster seat until the seat belt fits properly on its own.
    • A properly fitted lap belt fits low and snug across the hips and should be at least touching the upper thighs. A properly fitted shoulder belt falls across the collar bone and chest. As a general rule, lap and shoulder belt combinations do not fit children well until they are about 4′ 9″ tall. For most children, this will not be until they are between 8 and 12 years old. If the belt does not fit properly on its own, children should continue to use a booster seat.
    • It is important to remember that kids come in many different shapes and sizes and many will need to continue using a booster seat longer than the legal minimum requirement.  See the choosing and using section for more information on proper seatbelt fit.
    • One exception to this rule is in vehicles that have only lap belts available.  In this case, a child who weighs at least 40 pounds can be legally restrained using the lap belt only.  However this is not considered a safe option.
    • Refer to “What are Options for Children over 40 pounds? in the “Choosing and Using” section for additional information on booster seats and safer alternatives for lap-belt-only seating positions.
  • When can my child start using a booster seat?
    • The only requirement under North Carolina law is that any seat used must be used correctly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Every car seat and booster seat has a different set of requirements for use that may include age, height, and weight requirements.  As long as the child meets the requirements of a specific booster seat it is legal to use.  However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that  children stay in a child restraint with a harness until the seat is outgrown by weight or height.  In general we don’t recommend children start using booster seats until they are at least 4 or 5 years old and are mature enough to be able to sit properly at all times. In fact the National Traffic Safety Administration reminds parents not to rush to move a child to a booster seat too early.  If a younger child outgrows the weight or height limits of a forward-facing seat with a harness before the child is mature enough for a booster seat look for a car seat with a higher size limit.
  • Are 15 passenger vans included under this law?
    • Yes, 15-passenger vans are included under the North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Law. All children riding in a 15-passenger van should be properly restrained in an age and size appropriate restraint.
    • Some older model vans may only have lap belts in the rear seats.  If this is the case, all children who weigh less than 40 pounds must use a car seat with a harness.  Children weighing at least 40 pounds can legally use the lap belt only, but this is not considered a safe option.  For best protection, children who weigh at least 40 pounds should be restrained in a harnessed restraint that accommodates larger children.
  • Are school buses included under this law?
    • It depends on how big the bus is.  Small school buses (those weighing less than 10,000 pounds) are required to have seat belts and therefore the NC Child Passenger Safety Law does apply.
    • Large school buses are not required to have seatbelts and therefore are exempt from the NC Child Passenger Safety Law.  These buses reply on strong, closely spaced, energy absorbing seats to “compartmentalize” and protect passengers during a crash.  The size and construction of school buses as well as compartmentalization make them very safe vehicles.  In fact, injury rates are much higher for children riding in their parents’ cars, vans, SUVs, and other personal vehicles than for school buses.
  • Are child day care centers, summer camps, schools, churches and other organizations covered under this law?
    • No type of organization is exempt from the NC CPS Law, only types of vehicles. Organizations using vans or other passenger vehicles other than large buses to transport children are covered and must comply with all provisions of the NC CPS law.

 

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