Washington Car Seat Laws + Seat Belt Laws (All You Need to Know)

Washington Car Seat Laws + Seat Belt Laws

You can suffer severe injuries in a car crash. 

You can get bruised or broken ribs. 

Then there’s always whiplash.

Brain and spinal cord injuries aren’t out of the question, either.

Imagine how much more deadly that is to young children. 

Well, wearing the proper safety restraints can prevent most of these (or at least minimize the injuries).

And this is why Washington State demands safety restraint use. 

Today, we’re going to walk you through the Washington car seat laws and seat belt laws. 

We’ll tell you all you need to know to ensure the safety of everyone…

And ensure you don’t get ticketed. 

So shall we begin?

Car Seat Laws in Washington

In Washington…

“All children 8 years old and below and under 4’9” in height should use a child safety restraint.” 

Effective on January 1, 2020, Washington State modified its child restraint requirements. 

These days, parents and drivers must ensure they’re using the correct car seat depending on the child’s age group and the car seat’s limits.

Let’s break it down.

Child Safety RestraintWhat It IsWho It’s ForWhat to Remember
Rear-Facing Car SeatA car seat with a harness that cradles and moves with your child. This prevents stress on their neck and spinal cord in a crash.Infants and Toddlers (newborn to 2 years old)Children must use a rear-facing car seat until they turn two. However, don’t forget to follow the seat’s height and weight limit (every seat has them).
Front-Facing Car SeatAs the name implies, it’s a car seat that faces forward. It also has a harness and tether. If you get into an accident, these limit your child’s forward movement.Toddlers and Preschoolers (2 to 4 years old)You can transition your child to a front-facing car seat once they outgrow the rear-facing one. You can use it until your child turns 4 unless their height or weight exceeds the manufacturer’s limits early.
Booster SeatA car seat that no longer has a harness. It’s best for children who are too big for a car seat but not big enough to use an adult seat belt. It raises your child so your vehicle’s seat belt fits them properly.School-aged Children (4 to 8 years old)By the time your child outgrows a convertible or front-facing car seat, they still can’t use your car’s seat belt. A booster seat is for kids at least 4-8 years old — and they can continue using it until they turn 8 AND reach a height of 4’9″.

Adult Seat Belt
The seat belt is present in most vehicles (most involve two straps, though some only have one — lap belt). When properly worn, it should be snug on your child’s shoulder and chest and across their hip bones.Older Children and TeensWhen your child is over 4’9” tall or old enough to stop using a booster seat, they still need to wear restraints — enter the seat belt. 

But more than height and age, ensure your child can properly wear a seat belt. 

Here are other things to keep in mind about using car seats in Washington:

  • Washington State makes it a law that all children 13 years old and under must ride in the back seat. So all car seats should be installed at the back
  • You must use Washington’s requirements and the car seat manufacturer’s instructions to determine the best time to transition your child to the next child safety restraint.
  • You do not have to use a booster seat if your vehicle has lap-only seat belts. You can continue using a forward-facing car seat that has a higher weight limit. 
  • Once your child begins wearing an adult seat belt (based on age or height), you must ensure they wear it properly. That means never putting the shoulder strap behind their arm or back.

Car Seat Penalties in Washington

Get this. 

The Washington car seat laws have primary enforcement. 

That means law officers can pull you over if they see an unrestrained child in your moving vehicle. 

They don’t need any other reason to stop you.

And that leads to a ticket worth $100+.

But hold up…

Who is responsible to pay the fine?

Let’s say the parent is seated at the back with their child and the driver is just a friend.

The driver is the one responsible for not placing the child in the proper car seat — thus the driver is the one penalized. 

Washington Seat Belt Law

Washington State is not only about protecting the children — but adults too. 

This is why…

“Everyone 16 years old and older is required to properly wear a seat belt, whether the driver, the front passenger, or a back passenger”. 

Those 8-15 years old can use either a seat belt, booster seat, or forward-facing car seat (whichever fits them best). 

One last thing — it’s not just about wearing a seat belt. 

You must ensure you wear it PROPERLY. That means:

  • The shoulder belt falls across the middle of your chest and away from your neck.
  • The lap belt lies across your hip bones (not your stomach).
  • Never put the shoulder strap behind your back or under your arm. 

Seat Belt Penalties in Washington

Like the Washington car seat laws, the seat belt law has primary enforcement.

So again, if someone is spotted not wearing a seat belt, that is reason enough for a law officer to pull the car over. 

The same $100+ fine applies. 

But this time, the driver is only responsible for those 16 years old and under. 

If you’re already 16+ years old and aren’t wearing a seat belt, you will be the one penalized instead of the driver. 

Additional Safety Restraint Laws in Washington

Besides the car seat and seat belt laws, Washington State imposed other requirements regarding safety restraints.

These are as follows: 

  • Front lap-style seat belts are mandatory for all WA-registered vehicles manufactured after 1964.
  • Lap and shoulder belts (or lap belts) are non-negotiable for all seating positions in:
    • Vehicles manufactured after January 1968
    • Trucks and MVPs manufactured after January 1972
    • Vans, motor homes, and those with chassis-mounted campers manufactured after January 1976
  • Vehicles manufactured in 1986 and onwards must have designated areas for the tethers of forward-facing car seats.
  • The back seat outboard positions of vehicles from December 11, 1989, must have lap/shoulder belts.
  • Switchable retractors are found in most vehicles from 1996 and onwards. Tether anchors are usually found on those manufactured from September 1, 2000.
  • Vehicles made on September 1, 2002, and onwards must have LATCH capability for child restraint systems.
  • Passenger vehicles since 2008 must have lap or shoulder belts in all back seat positions.

What You Should Know About Airbags

Seat belts aren’t the only safety feature in vehicles. 

Your vehicle may also have airbags installed.

However, most people think that because of these, using a seat belt isn’t necessary anymore — and nothing is further from the truth. 

The design of airbags makes them most effective when used with seat belts. 

If you don’t buckle up, you might sustain more injuries if the airbag hits you when it deploys in a crash.

Also, airbags are NOT safe for children. 

This is one of the reasons why child safety restraints are required to be installed at the back. 

Don’t worry – the car seat is cushion enough to protect your child. 

The Wrap Up

And there you have it — all you need to know about the Washington car seat laws and seat belt laws. 

Now you have all the essential information to ensure you and your child are safe whenever you’re on the road. 

And who doesn’t want safety?

Besides, even if your trip doesn’t lead to a crash — it might lead to a ticket. 

So obey the car seat and seat belt laws in Washington AT ALL TIMES. 

Be a safe and responsible driver!

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