What Is the Car Seat Law in Texas?

As a parent in Texas, it might seem as though car seat laws, regulations, and requirements change every year. However, it has been more than 10 years since a substantial change has actually occurred in Texas regarding child seat laws.

The current Texas Transportation Code requires that a child under the age of eight be secured in a child passenger safety seat system during the operation of a motor vehicle. The failure to secure a child in this manner is a misdemeanor offense and may result in a penalty of up to $250. A child under the age of eight is not required to be secured if the child is taller than four feet, nine inches.

The law provides for several exemptions in unique circumstances including:

  • Vehicle was operated in an emergency or for a law enforcement purpose;
  • A person was transporting passengers for hire (excluding third-party transport services when providing transporting under a Medicaid contract for nonemergency transportation)
  • A situation where all seating positions equipped with child passenger safety seat systems or safety belts were occupied

A person who commits an offense under this statute could be sentenced to probation by a judge, rather than completing a driving safety course approved by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. However, the judge can require the offender to attend and present proof that they attended a driving safety course approved by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation which includes four hours of instruction on the use of child passenger safety seat systems.

Drivers of vehicles who are cited for failure to secure a child in a child passenger safety seat have further defenses, including that the driver was not arrested or issued a citation (as a result of a traffic violation) and the driver did not possess a child safety seat system.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) publishes new “best practice recommendations” each year pertaining to child safety. The 2016 best practices list their recommendations in the following phases:

  • Phase I recommends that infants remain in rear-facing seats until they are more than 35 pounds or older than two years old.
  • Phase II recommends that directly after the rear-facing seats, children should transition up to forward-facing seats as long as possible, up to the upper height or weight limit of the harness. This weight limit often ranges between 40 and 80 pounds.
  • Phase III recommends that children older than 4, and weighing more than 40 pounds can ride in a booster seat with the adult safety belt until the safety belt fits them properly without a booster seat. Phase IV is the progression to the adult safety belt.

The Texas DPS further recommends that children remain in each Phase as long as possible.

If you have a child or find yourself driving children in your vehicle, it is important to stay updated on new laws concerning child passenger safety seats. Ongoing recalls and ever-changing laws and best practices may serve to confuse many drivers, but it is important to know what is and is not legal. For more information regarding car seat laws in Texas, reach out to a car accident lawyer in Austin.