Ohio Car Seat Laws: What You Need to Know

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We work hard to take care of our children. We make sure they eat right, stay active, finish their homework, and get plenty of sleep. We teach them to look both ways before crossing a road and to always wear a helmet while riding a bike.

We also work to keep them safe in cars by using the correct car seat or booster seat. It’s not just smart — in Ohio, it’s the law.

In Ohio, car accidents are the leading cause of death among children ages 4-7 and is one of the top causes of injury and death for the age groups on either side. Ohio’s child safety laws are designed to help keep our kids safer on the roads.

Child Passenger Safety Law

Ohio law states that children who are under 4 years old or under 40 pounds must be placed in a car seat that meets federal child safety standards. Those federal guidelines depend on the age and size of the child. For example, children should be in a rear-facing car seat for at least the first year and may stay in a rear-facing seat through the age of 3. Depending on the child’s size, she may transition to a forward-facing car seat as early as 1 and may stay in a forward-facing seat up until the age of 7. Your child may transition to a booster seat as early as 4 and may stay there until the age of 12. Children may start to use regular seat belts as early as 8 years old.

Remember that your child isn’t ready for a regular seat belt when she outgrows her car seat. Ohio law states that children must remain in a booster seat until they turn 8 or until they reach 4 feet, 9 inches of height, whichever comes first. You may keep your child in a booster seat even longer if she’s too small for the seat belt to fit right.

If you don’t have your child in the correct safety seat, you may be fined anywhere from $25-$75 per offense. After the first offense, if found guilty, it’s considered a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. All fines go to the Child Highway Safety Fund, which provides for The Ohio Buckles Buckeyes (OBB) Program. The OBB Program gives child safety seats and booster seats to eligible low-income families in all Ohio counties. 

Why Booster Seats?

Why do you need to put your kid in a booster seat? Seat belts just aren’t safe for children. Seat belts are designed to fit average adult frames. They only work if they fit properly across the shoulder and chest.

Seat belts that don’t fit can actually cause serious injury to the neck, stomach, and spine in case of a crash. The belt should fit snugly over the shoulder and across the chest. The lap belt should rest across the hips, not over the stomach. If the seat belt is resting against your child’s neck or over her stomach, it’s too big and you’ll need a booster seat.

A common rule of thumb suggests that your kid is big enough to use a regular seat belt if she can sit all the way back in the seat and bend her knees over the edge. If her legs are too short to bend comfortably over the edge of the seat, she’s too small.

Booster Seats in Ohio

Booster seats are an easy and effective way to keep children safer. Studies show that the use of a booster seat reduces the risk of injury in a crash by almost 60%. Unfortunately, only about 18% of people in Ohio use booster seats when their children need them — one of the lowest percentages in the country. That means a lot of children are getting avoidable injuries in car crashes.

To help with local families who can’t afford them, the OBB Program increases the availability of child safety seats and also works to education on the correct installation and proper use of child safety seats. More than 17,000 child safety seats and booster seats have been distributed to Ohio families over the past five years. Those who receive the free seats must attend a class on how to use them. There’s also car seat checks and fitting stations all around the state.

For those who don’t meet the income guidelines, a booster seat can be purchased for as little as $15.

Ohio Rear Facing Car Seat Laws, Guidelines

Part of the problem with getting people to use car seats and booster seats is the difficulty in choosing a seat and determining when it’s time to move your child to a different type of seat. To help with that issue, the Department of Transportation provides guidelines for choosing the right seat for your child.

Your child should be kept in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. It’s safer than a forward-facing seat. Some car seats are infant-only seats, meaning that they can only be placed facing the rear. Other car seats are convertible and can be used facing either the rear or the front. The convertible seats are typically designed with higher height and weight limits than infant-only seats, so you can keep your child in a rear-facing seat for longer.

Children should be in rear-facing seats for at least the first year and may stay in rear-facing seats up to 3 years of age. You should keep your child in the rear-facing seat until she reaches the top height and weight limits recommended by the manufacturer. Then it’s time to switch to a forward-facing seat. Once your child reaches the height and weight limits for the forward-facing seat, it’s time to transition to a booster seat. Your child should stay in the booster seat until she can wear a seat belt comfortably and properly. Remember that you’re required by law to keep your kid in a booster seat until she turns 8 or reaches 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

Even when your child is big enough to fit a regular seat belt, she should ride in the back seat. It’s always safer to be in the back seat in case of a crash.

The best way to keep your children safe is to be a safe driver. Check out our resources on the most dangerous roads in Ohio and download our Car Crash Checklist so you’re prepared for the worst.

Contact an Ohio Car Accident Attorney

If you’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact one of our experienced car crash lawyers today. We’ll evaluate your case for free and help you decide how to get compensation for the costs incurred in the accident. You may be entitled to recover medical expenses, property damage costs, and more.

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