Statistically, fatalities in children are mainly attributed to automobile accidents. A car crash or any other accident involving a motor vehicle makes up more than half of the annual death tolls in children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports, children aged 12 years and younger have suffered from severe or fatal injuries. Recent statistics show that these casualties are due to the negligent bypassing of mandated child passenger safety guidelines. Findings indicate that a motor vehicle without a child safety seat, such as a booster seat or car seat, installed within is the leading cause of children sustaining severe or fatal injuries in car crashes.
Booster seats with harness straps that are not installed correctly are also contributing factors. You should always follow the instruction manual to ensure the proper use and installation of car seats.
We must stay informed with local car seat laws because they differ among states. However, these laws are established in conjunction with Federal regulations regarding the Child Passenger Safety Law.
Massachusetts Car Seat Laws
These are the current Massachusetts Car Seat Laws enacted by the Massachusetts government.
Under the Massachusetts General Laws > Part I > Title XIV > Chapter 90 > Section 7AA, any passenger within a vehicle under eight years of age must be fastened and secured into a child safety seat or by a child passenger restraint.
Rear Facing Car Seat
Here are some important reminders regarding child passengers aged 12 months and below.
Any child below 12 months of age must ride vehicles in rear-facing car seats.
A car seat designed for an infant can only be used as a rear-facing car seat and cannot be converted into a forward-facing car seat.
A car seat or booster seat that features convertible functions, otherwise known as an all-in-one car seat, is more versatile. These car seats can accommodate a broader range of heights and weights that allow users to prolong their usability through the years.
However, all car seats still have an expiration date indicated in their owner’s manual, which buyers must never overlook, especially when buying a second-hand car seat.
For children aged 1-3 years old:
It is important to note that rear-facing car seats are considered the safest form of any child’s car seat.
A rear-facing seat strapped in the back seat is the best possible way to ensure a child’s safety within a car.
A child must stay within a rear-facing seat until such a time that the child’s weight or height reaches the maximum limit as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Upon reaching a car seat’s maximum capacity, guardians can then move children into a forward-facing seat.
Forward Facing Car Seat
For children aged 4-7 years old:
Front-facing seats must possess the appropriate harness and tether.
Guardians must strap a child into a front-facing car seat placed in the back seat and never within a car’s front seat.
Upon reaching the height and weight limit of the car seat, the child may then use a booster seat.
A child must be secured in a belt-positioning booster seat federally approved until eight years old.
A legal guardian must ensure that their child sit in a booster seat until they are fifty-seven inches or 4 feet, 9 inches tall.
It is the responsibility of legal guardians such as parents to ensure a child is kept within a booster seat until they are big enough to be safely fastened into a vehicle seat by a regular seat belt.
This can be measured by sitting a child down and pulling the belt across the front of the child. The belt must not reach the base of the child’s neck but instead create a diagonal line from the shoulder to the child’s chest into the buckle.
In the event the child passenger isn’t big enough for regular seat belts and:
- Measures more than the maximum height
- Exceeds the weight limit indicated in the instruction manual provided by the car seat manufacturer
- Otherwise physically unable to fit within standardized car seats and/or booster seats
- Possesses any physical disability that prevents the child from being properly fastened into any child safety seats, as stated in writing by a physician in good standing
The child must then be appropriately secured in the right car seat, more suitable for their needs, buckled into the vehicle’s rear seat. It must be federally approved and compatible with the lower anchors and tethers for the child restraint system featured in cars.
This aspect in the child restraint systems is known as LATCH.
Lower Anchors and Tethers for Child Restraint
The LATCH system compatibility is featured in nearly all cars manufactured after September 2002.
The requirement for LATCH system compatibility to accommodate car seats is also mandatory for all buses that weigh less than or up to 9,999 pounds, with seats positioned in twos, manufactured on or after October 2002.
While it is not mandatory for larger buses, local governments still recommend it.
When a Child Outgrows Booster Seats and Car Seats
The car seat law is implemented until foreseeable circumstances, such as when the child reaches thirteen years of age.
The child can then be properly fastened into the right seat, such as the rear seat, back seat, and rear-facing seat, using safety belts such as a shoulder belt or seat belt.
According to the CDC, between the ages of 8-13 years old, it is still not recommended that a child sit in the front seat of a car.
Under the Massachusetts car seat law, children riding as passengers on a school bus will not bear the same Massachusetts car seat responsibilities as stated above.
While this is sometimes controversial, the decision not to impose the same car seat and seat belt regulations on children within a school bus as those in a car comes from many factors.
The relevant laws concerning school buses and the extensive buildout of these buses suffice in ensuring child safety within them.
School buses are constructed with more robust material. They are designed to distribute the forces received upon any impact better than passenger cars, vans, and light trucks.
Additionally, the Massachusetts Law states that no motor vehicles shall be operational or mobile within at least one hundred feet of legally sanctioned school buses. School buses that turn their light indicators on to signal an oncoming stop must not be approached, passed, or overtaken by any other motorist.
Smaller school buses resembling vans instead of buses are required to feature a child’s seat belt with one strap as a lap belt and others with an added shoulder belt. Today, eight states within the United States require school buses to feature such safety belts to secure children per the child passenger safety laws.
Eight States That Require Seat Belts in School Buses
These states include:
Arkansas laws rely on its people to take the initiative in carrying out child safety regulations. The local governments within the state are responsible for each public and private school within their area of responsibility to implement child safety belt regulations on students aboard their buses.
California was one of the first states to recognize the need for lap or shoulder belts within school buses, advocating its benefits related to children’s safety since 1999. California has since enacted relevant legislation statewide.
Florida requires school buses manufactured after January 1, 2001, to feature the appropriate restraint systems that the Federal government approves.
In May 2021, Louisiana passed a House Bill that will require all school buses to feature an adequate restraint system for their occupants beginning January 1, 2023.
In 2017, Nevada enacted a three-point safety belt mandate with all school buses purchased on or after July 2019.
As of 2018, New Jersey requires all new school buses to feature a combination of lap and shoulder belts restraint systems. Older models must also retrofit the new mandate into their existing layout if they only feature the 1992 lap belt mandate or no belts at all.
New York requires all buses, including school buses, to feature restraint systems but delegates its level of enforcement within each district to its governing bodies.
As of October 2021, most school buses remain beltless even with the new three-point belt statewide mandate. The state only sanctions this restraint system in buses manufactured after 2018 and not in buses released before then.
All road-legal motor vehicles manufactured on or before June 30, 1966, which do not feature a safety belt or LATCH compatibility, are exempt from laws related to car seats and occupant restraints.
The car seat law relevant in this case varies with each state. However, the exemption only legally applies to adults and not children in California.
If you are stopped, fined, or cited by authorities in Massachusetts for breaching car seat laws, you should contact a lawyer.
The Kiley Law Group
The Kiley Law Group offers its clients free consultations that include a full case evaluation. Contact our firm if you have sustained any bodily injuries caused by another party’s negligence.
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